Where once was retribution spat, where bonfire boys made fright, where seas of stagnant darkness sat, there flows a tide of light.
That’s not a hymn from 150 years ago, but it’s meant to sound like one because, when it comes to bonfire night, Worthing wasn’t always the best place to be. There was a time when the town was best avoided in early November, as the bonfire boys took their cruel vengeance upon anyone judged to have slighted the working class or offended a Protestant doctrine that its defenders barely understood. Holy smoke, how things have changed.
These days we’re more enlightened. These days we have Tide of Light: a volunteer-led project that sees its genesis in workshops and masterclasses, and its revelation in a shivering, shimmering stream of fairy-lit lanterns and sculptures, surfing through the town on a wave of non-sectarian celebration. Everything you see has been assembled in Worthing by enthusiastic amateurs. Tide of Light is art on legs.
If you’re wondering why we’re describing a winter carnival before we’ve enjoyed most of the summer ones, it’s because the work is already underway and you are most welcome to join in.
“This year will see the brightest, most spectacular Tide of Light yet,” explains coordinator Jess Estcourt. “We’ve already completed one round of workshops in schools and now we’ve teamed up with the New Carnival Company, who have been working on the carnival in Rio. They are helping us with workshops in our community, showing us how to light up the night with amazing illuminated sculptures.”
The lantern-making will be popping up all over town throughout the summer. You’ll find them at Pride, Rotary Carnival, Green Dreams and even the Pumpkin Picking Patch in Sompting.
Tide of Light has also partnered up with the energetic people who organise Worthing Parkrun, and they’ve come up with the brilliant idea of the Dark Run. It may sound like a throwback to the murky days of south coast smuggling, but it’s nothing more threatening than an illuminated 5k adventure. According to Jess, “You can walk, jog or run, but you’ve absolutely got to glow.”
“We really want people to get involved in the whole process,” says Jess. “We call our volunteers ‘Mighty Makers’ but you don’t need any special skills to make the lanterns. There’ll be adults and kids and instructors, all working together in organised chaos to prepare for the big night. You just need a sense of humour and a little bit of patience.”
Some of those already signed up to parade the sparkling sculptures are precisely the wonderful Worthing groups you’d expect – Superstar Arts, Dad La Soul, Sight Support and Blueprint 22 – but the event might hold one or two big surprises this year, not that Jess is giving too much away just yet. “Strange creatures will be washing ashore,” she says cryptically, “carried into Worthing on a Tide of Light.”
Tide of Light: Saturday 2 November