Programme Updates

Our Heritage 2040: Hearts of Darkness, Rings of Saturn

by .

In late October 2020, Jericho Chambers hosted five roundtable discussions about Suffolk’s future over five days. Fifty individuals participated from a broader interested community of over 100 – including national politicians, local business leaders, energy and tourism experts and local residents and civil society organisations. The subjects covered Suffolk’s future economy, energy and heritage.

This essay brings together a mixture of background observation and a synthesis of the ideas discussed. It is intended partly as a discussion document covering the issues raised in the recent Jericho publication “Our Heritage 2040: A New Energy for the Suffolk Coast.” 


It’s lunchtime at The Joseph Conrad, the Lowestoft branch of JD Wetherspoons, two days before the second wave lockdown begins. Outside the pub, a four-strong squadron of mobility scooters is parked. Black Dragon cider – “refreshingly Welsh” – is the waitress’s recommendation. Many other pints are on “Sunak Special Offer” at £1.29 or £1.79. What hasn’t been drunk by 10 pm Wednesday evening, November 4th (when the establishment again closes its doors and goes dark) will have to go down the drain.

It’s now 142 years since Joseph Conrad first disembarked in the UK at Lowestoft. If ever there was a “citizen of nowhere” rather than “somewhere,” Conrad fitted the bill. Josef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski was a Pole fluent in French on his Lowestoft arrival but he first picked-up English sailing up the coast from Suffolk and went onto become one of Britain’s pre-eminent novelists.

Some believe Lowestoft’s heyday is probably behind it. When Conrad arrived, the herring industry was at its peak – 60 million fish could be landed daily during the season. Teams of itinerant Scottish fisher girls would handle the catch when ashore. A team was usually allocated to a particular boat for the season. The women worked in teams of three – two to gut the fish and one to pack the barrels. A good team could gut and barrel pack 120 a minute. In 1912 – by which time Conrad was ashore and had his two masterpieces Nostromo and The Secret Agent published – all records were broken when over 600 vessels sailed from Lowestoft in search of the North Sea fish which were exported all over Europe. Fast forward to November 2020 and fifteen vessels now land fish at Lowestoft; and although the town will house a new marine scientific research centre on the site of the former Grand Hotel, when you type “Lowestoft is….” into Google search, the predicted next word is “dump.”

English seaside resorts have a certain bleak and empty-stadium, throng-free charm as Winter begins. Lowestoft, with its once highly fashionable promenade, is no different. A lone woman is making a pot of tea in her beach hut. But underneath, the socio-economic stats make for difficult reading: the area around London Road South and Marine Parade was ranked at number 25 of 32,844 neighbourhoods in England when it comes to levels of deprivation. Two thousand eight hundred Lowestoft children live in low-income families, and 3,815 children live in families reliant on out of work benefits.

If COVID enables a national re-think and the will to “build back better”, what might be some good ideas to allow this to happen in Suffolk and make its future brighter for all inhabitants? If you were to add potentially, a £20 billion+ new power station at Sizewell C with all the economic and development spin-offs, what might be achievable?


During the week of group discussions, one word that kept coming up to describe the county was “quiet.” Quiet isn’t necessarily bad. It suggests tranquillity and not everyone likes noisy. Those who come for second homes, for example, have chosen the area to put down secondary roots because they like it very much as it is – its peace, beauty and lack of the frenetic. But it’s true that, over the last nine months of upheaval, we’ve heard a lot from the great urban conurbations of the Midlands, the North East and the North West. East Anglia gets little time in the limelight. Some like it this way. But noise gets attention. And if the chancellor – in the most magnanimous of phases currently – is the one holding the necessary purse strings helping to revive and level-up, then a case needs to be argued.

Andy Wood, CEO of Adnams PLC – and an unusually thoughtful businessman – has suffered a difficult time during COVID so is well placed to set out the challenges: “We have a crisis which can be an opportunity,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to step back and ask what kind of a world, region, county do we want? There are too many echo chambers currently.

“Suffolk has a reputation as being genteel, gentle and quiet – that for some is a major part of the allure – but it has a history and strong spirit of innovation and doing things differently. We’ve got the raw ingredients for a food and drink cluster. We have the ability to add more value to the food chain. Everywhere there is potential. But we need some local determination. We cannot always be reliant on central government levers and money.

“The current crisis is teaching us – if we needed to know – that health and wealth are inextricably linked. We need more wealth in Suffolk and it needs to be better distributed. There’s a strong argument – which has been accelerated by COVID and the possibilities of remote working – to attract top talent away from the cities to our county where the quality of life can be excellent.”

Solid community foundations shape a sense of place:
Localism, a possible mayor and enhanced political voice

A unified message from most of those involved was that better decision-making takes place at a local level. There was room for far more devolution of power from Westminster. There was a disappointment in centralised national and even regional politics but also the fragmented nature of local seats of power and action.

“Government has rarely proved successful when it comes to backing winners. It’s allowed the market and circumstance to put forward winners,” said one participant, “but energy is one area where you simply cannot do without joined-up thinking.”

How might “power” and governance be placed in the hands of those who live in the region – on projects both big and small: from energy to heritage? The equivalent of a Metro or Unitary Authority mayor might prove a great help – one contributor suggested a Unitary Mayor for Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth together “How do you reach anyone under the age of 30 and interest them in important developments for their future if it’s only via the parish council?” asked one exasperated participant. “But you must represent locally because anything good that gets built must have solid community foundations as that vital sense of place is shaped.”

The MP for Ipswich Tom Hunt – a mere 32 years of age – recently reignited the mayoral debate after tabling a written question to the Department of Housing, Communities & Local Government to ask what plans there were to elect a mayor to represent Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.

He said: “We have seen what important figures West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham have become in talks with the government and the race for investment. This area needs someone of that stature to represent it in discussions with the government.”

His fellow MP Peter Aldous (Waveney) said during the Jericho discussion: “There’s the possibility of an FDR spirit post-COVID: an East Anglian energy hub that could have a lasting legacy. ”There will be no shortage of locals willing to “get stuck in.”

A unified message from most of those involved was that better decision-making takes place at a local level. There was room for far more devolution of power from Westminster. There was a disappointment in centralised national and even regional politics but also the fragmented nature of local seats of power and action.

Getting its fair share: 
Culture, Tourism & Nature

It’s been shown time and again that in “left behind” areas the world over culture and tourism can lead to a reversal in fortunes. Suffolk has 58 museums and heritage organisations which bring £86 million per annum into its economy, according to Jayne Austin of Suffolk County Council. Clare Parsons, Trustee of the HighTide Festival, said: “We may be quiet and rural but there are many cultural riches and we can make more.”

Sally Balcombe, CEO of Visit Britain, spoke of the huge potential in Suffolk’s fragmented landscape. “Tourism is the fastest-growing sector in the world over the last five years,” she said. “You’re not getting your fair share of the tourism cake. It’s worth £129 billion nationally. Many areas now have tourism as part of their local industrial strategy but you’ve got to grasp fast digital connectivity and up your low level of digital marketing. But you can underpin your offer with clean energy, great agri-food.”

Several participants mentioned the newly proposed Eden Project North which seeks to reimagine the seaside resort of Morecambe for the twenty-first century. Morecambe’s motto during its tourism heyday was ‘Beauty Surrounds and Health Abounds’. When Suffolk launched its new slogan in 2012 “The Curious County” met with a mixed reception. The Morecambe project has far-reaching environmental, social and economic ambitions and why couldn’t something similar be attempted in Suffolk?

An idea emerged of Suffolk as Britain’s first National Park county, championing re-wilding and biodiversity, together with new protocols for the built environment and deep electrification. James Alexander, a director of Future Agenda and trustee of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, asked everyone to imagine a Heritage Coast from Felixstowe to Lowestoft, joined end to end by footpaths and cycleways with “the river valleys of the Alde, Deben, Stour, Blyth and Waveney nourishing water meadows and replenishing a clean sea.” Hugh Somerleyton is one of the prime movers behind WildEast, a landowner/farmer plan to return area the size of Dorset to wild nature, even introducing bison.

Earth, Wind & Fire – and Hydrogen:
Energy innovation 

East Anglia has been in the vanguard for renewable energy – mostly in offshore wind power. If Sizewell C goes ahead, the new kid on the block – hydrogen – could also become a big growth sector. One of the problems with renewable energies – in which East Anglia has excelled – is their irregular supply, and with both solar and wind power there are periods in which too much energy is generated for the national grid. The supply exceeds the demand. Battery storage is expensive on a  large scale, and local solutions like pumping water up to an elevated reservoir, so that it can run down and generate hydroelectric power when needed, are not generally feasible. Hydrogen is a non-polluting source of energy, and its use in cars, and possible use in aeroplanes, has been widely discussed. But this cannot be implemented on a large scale without setting up significant new infrastructure.

However, there is a much simpler way in which hydrogen could help to supply energy needs. Where cables from offshore wind farms come ashore, or possible at central hubs if there is eventually a coastal ring main of such centres, excess electricity, such as that produced by high winds blowing at night, could be converted into hydrogen by electrolysis, a simple physical process that can be carried out in school science laboratories. The hydrogen gas is then compressed and stored in storage tanks. Then when wind pressure drops and the demand of the national grid increases beyond immediate renewable capacities, this hydrogen is then used as fuel to power electricity-generating turbines, much as in gas-fired electricity plants. The distribution system for the generated electricity combining hydrogen is already there because of the wind turbines.

Laura Sandys, former MP and one of our leading experts on UK energy policy, described hydrogen as “the Heineken of decarbonisation tech.” She added that for Suffolk the journey would inevitably be “messy… most things are. But the key is to own your own future by putting the pieces together in a way that works for you, designing around people, not processes. And then you present to the government.”

Johnathan Reynolds, the MD of Opergy Ltd, argued, “there’s no denying Sizewell C would be a game-changer not just for the region but the whole country. It could power 20% of UK homes and provide 7% of UK power overall. The energy sector will be crucial for future generations because it will enable the shift to net zero while supporting a modern way of life. Without energy, we go nowhere and achieve very little.”

Laura Sandys made the important point that “there is no silver bullet but a very complicated jigsaw.” The pieces of that jigsaw involved retaining and massively improving education and skills in the region. Why could Centres of Excellence not be created? Likewise, transport in the region needs a wholesale rethink, starting with rail (Peter Aldous MP made the point that the East Suffolk Line travels at an average of 34 mph. Almost as slow as some of Suffolk’s broadband). The housing squeeze and consequent exodus of youth are just as critical in Norfolk and Suffolk as it is in some of the great cities of the UK. It is the future of the young that concerns Julia Pyke, the Director of Sizewell C. “The highlight of my career has been what we’ve been able to achieve in Bridgewater while building Hinckley,” she says. “That project has had the power to transform lives especially among the young. Many who started as apprentices aged 16 are now fully skilled and in great, well-paid jobs.”

Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, whose constituency includes Lowestoft, is an optimist on revival: “Yes, we face real challenges at the current time” he says, “but the energy transition, the £220 million Government investment in and around the Port and the Town Centre, the opportunity to revive the local fishing industry and conservation projects such as Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s initiative at Carlton Marshes give us an opportunity to provide an exemplar of how to “build back better.” It’s not going to be easy; it will be very different to what it was before, but there is the prospect of creating a rather special place.”

“The energy sector will be crucial for future generations because it will enable the shift to net zero while supporting a modern way of life. Without energy, we go nowhere and achieve very little”

Jonathan Reynolds, Opergy Ltd


We began with Joseph Conrad and end with WG Sebald. Sebald, although a German writing in his native tongue, taught at the University of East Anglia in Norwich and wrote The Rings of Saturn, the record of a journey on foot through coastal East Anglia from Lowestoft to Bungay. Another citizen of nowhere. Described by The Times as “the Joyce of the 21st century” many were mystified that Sebald never won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He fitted the bill perfectly.

The Rings of Saturn is about many things, not least the transience of all things human. It is also quite saturnine or melancholy. There are a few laughs. But Sebald was to some extent ahead of his time in worrying about carbon and what man was doing to the earth, writing in The Rings of Saturn. As he moves on from Dunwich, he meditates on the fact that most of the countryside inland from the coast was once a forest, and on the way industrialisation and agriculture gradually deforested Britain – “Our spread over the earth was fuelled by reducing the higher species of vegetation to charcoal, by incessantly burning whatever would burn. Combustion is the hidden principle behind every artefact we create. The making of a fish hook, manufacture of a china cup, or production of a television programme, all depend on the same process of combustion. Like our bodies and like our desires, the machines we have devised are possessed of a heart which is slowly reduced to embers.”

Sebald died in a car accident in December 2001, a full fifteen years before the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The generally positive and optimistic tone of the discussions might have not been his style but, there again, he was a writer and didn’t have to “come up with proposals.”

These sessions were intended to be an open mic process and a beginning. Writing is a solitary process, effecting change a collective endeavour.

“We need to make the most of what we have and there is an opportunity for the East to create an energy innovation economy”

George Freeman MP

“There is no silver bullet, but a very complicated jigsaw”

Laura Sandys

What Next? 

If you missed the original publication, Our Heritage 2040: A New Energy for the Suffolk Coast, you can catch it here. More detail on the five discussion roundtables is captured in this summary report.

Working groups are now emerging to explore some of the big ideas highlighted in this article – led and shaped by many of the programme’s expert contributors. These cover: localism & devolution; the food renaissance; the fight against mono-culturalism; ambitious tourism; tech & data; and a natural revival. Advances in – and benefits from – the region’s energy sector are woven throughout.

If you would like to get involved, please contact Jericho Founder Robert Phillips, who is curating the project, or Programme Director, Becky Holloway.


The project has been generously supported by Sizewell C but retains complete editorial independence.


List of Contributors to the Our Heritage 2040 Roundtables

  • Peter Abson, Public Affairs and Policy Senior Manager, National Grid
  • Peter Aldous MP
  • James Alexander, Director, Future Agenda
  • Jayne Austin, Development and Partnership Manager, Association of Suffolk Museums
  • Sally Balcombe, CEO, Visit England
  • Chris Ball, Managing Director, Atkins Energy UK & Europe
  • Rebecca Barnett, Deputy Director, Ofgem
  • Simon Barrow, Trustee, Alde & Ore Association
  • Paul Bongers de Rath, Secretary, Aldeburgh Society
  • Rodney Brook, Business Development Director, Clean Power Hydrogen Group
  • Graeme Cooper, Project Director, National Grid
  • Nigel Cornwall, Founding Member, Hydrogen East
  • Patrick Craven, Director of Strategic Partnerships, City and Guilds
  • Suba Das, Artistic Director, High Tide
  • Joanna Deakin, Journalist, Film Maker, Stop Sizewell C Campaigner
  • Beth Derks, Future Leaders Programme Lead and Tutor, School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies, UEA
  • David Ellis, Vice President of Sales and Strategy, Jacobs
  • George Freeman MP
  • Liz Fuller, Save Britain’s Heritage
  • Michael Gidney, Chief Executive, The Fairtrade Foundation
  • Cameron Gilmour, Vice President, Doosan Babcock
  • Nick Gold, Owner, Orfordness
  • Mark Goyder, Founder, Tomorrow’s Company
  • Matthew Gwyther, Partner, Jericho Chambers
  • Argus Hardy, WildEast
  • Becky Holloway, Programme Director, Jericho Chambers
  • Lord Chris Holmes
  • Saul Humphrey, Chair, New Anglia LEP: Building Growth
  • Robert Jones, Assistant Chief Constable, Suffolk Police
  • Dominic Keen, Founder, Britbots and New Anglia LEP
  • Jayne Knight, Arts Development Manager, Suffolk County Council
  • Tony Langham, Chief Executive and Co-founder, Lansons
  • Rosanna Lawn, Global Brand Director, Project Etopia
  • Zion Lights, Director, Environmental Progress
  • Paul Mackie, Coastal Strategic Funding Manager, Coastal Partnership East
  • Michael Mahony
  • Nick Mayo, Leiston District Citizens’ Advice Bureau
  • Tom McGarry, Head of Stakeholder Engagement, Sizewell C
  • Clare Parsons, Chair and Co-founder, Lansons; Trustee, High Tide Festival
  • Ian Pease, Business Development Manager – All Energy, Suffolk County Council
  • Robert Phillips, Founder, Jericho Chambers
  • Julia Pyke, Director, Sizewell C
  • Johnathan, Reynolds, Managing Director, Opergy Ltd
  • Nigel, Salter, Director, Brodie
  • Laura Sandys
  • Hugh Somerleyton, Restauranteur and Landowner
  • Callum Thomas, Founder and CEO, Thomas Thor Associates
  • Sarah Williamson, Technical Director, Laing O’Rourke
  • Andy Wood, CEO, Adnams PLC
  • Ian Wright, Chief Executive, Food and Drink Federation
  • Derek Wyatt, former MP and Digital Guru
  • Chrysoula Zervoudakis, Governance & Sustainability Consultant

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