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In our special 10th anniversary year we’re exploring the state of the Isle of Wight today, how we got here, where we’re going and what does it mean to be an islander? Co-Director Jack Whitewood explains more…

I’m a proud Caulkhead. Born and bred on the Isle of Wight, as were both my parents, so I’ve been known to be a bit overzealous in my defending of the place when it’s ridiculed.

Mostly I’m proud of my home, like when I see the success of bands like Wet Leg, or the shoutout given by Anthony Minghella during the Oscars. I think I’m lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world, steeped in history and surrounded by amazing landscapes.

But sometimes I can feel ashamed. Sometimes it’s over little things, like our terribly designed flag and overuse of ‘wight’ puns. Other times it can run deeper, occasions where visiting friends have felt uncomfortable from comments with racist undertones. Seeing the Island at or near the bottom of so many league tables, especially those charting poverty, school results, opportunities.

I find it a complete hypocrisy to hear people who have moved here from the mainland complaining about people moving here from abroad when it feels little difference to me. But then I hear those same views from a family member and start to notice me excusing them.

The irony is I suspect there are more Islanders living off the Island than on it, such is the number of young people who leave.

Recently someone told me to be a real Caulkhead, you must be from multiple generations of Island stock. I mildly admitted one of my four grandparents’ may have moved here. Am I no longer a true Islander?

Back in early 2022, Cornish artist Seamus Carey began releasing a podcast called ‘The Reason Why‘ It looked at the social issues, hidden history and culture wars of contemporary Cornwall. 

The 10 episode series takes a deep dive look at Cornwall today, as told by the people who live there. Seamas talks identity, rural racism and xenophobia with both household names and historically unheard voices. From second-home owners to Cornish nationalists, Black Voices Cornwall to Cornwall’s transgender community – he asks; what does it mean to belong?

I first came across the series nearly a year later, and was immediately struck by just how much it resonated with my experiences living on the Isle of Wight. Like Seamus, I too am angry and frustrated at the seeming impossibility of being able to own a home in the community I grew up in and love. Without support from family or a rent free space to save it can feel like a distant dream, as prices continue to spiral. The average house in Ventnor is now around £350K, more than 10 times the average salary. Meanwhile rents often cost more than mortgages.

Seamus exasperation is at first directed at second home owners, not only for the impact on house prices and gentrification, but for creating what he sees as a divide between residents who live in communities year round, and those who visit only occasionally. He feels local Cornish identity is under threat and that it’s history and customs are being forgotten. He shares, as I do, a sincere belief that his home is unique and distinct from the rest of the UK.

‘Maybe it’s time the Isle of Wight took matters into its own hands? We need to start thinking about local people first. The native culture needs to be protected’

But the power of ‘The Reason Why‘ is that Seamus takes the time to listen to many different voices. To understand that there is nuance and complexity in everything. Is there much difference in the way in which we can often deride being ‘overrun’ with tourists who we call grockle (or in Cornwall emmet) to the way politicians chastise ‘invasions’ and ‘swarms’ of migrants coming to the UK?

What’s it like growing up with a different religion, sexuality or ethnic background from the majority in a place like the Isle of Wight? Are you any less an Islander?

The Reason Why caused a great deal of controversy in Cornwall, and I can see why, but it’s a fascinating and sincere attempt to explore  honestly the issues facing a rural community similar to our own, and I absolutely recommend giving it a listen.

Alongside the podcast, Seamus devised a show that explores the concept further. It’s called ‘Help! I Think I’m a Nationalist’

The show asks the questions ‘Where’s the line between pride and power?’ and What happens when it all goes too far? It’s not heavy, it’s a fun show but with an important message.

We’ll be taking the show out on tour, performing at The Apollo Theatre in Newport, Despozitroy/Montage Place in Ryde and our new space Ingrams Yard in Ventnor. We hope it will kick-start a conversation about what it means to be an Islander in 2024 and what role culture and arts have within that.

I think for me the greatest excitement has been in the revelation that our culture is whatever we want it to be. There are no gate keepers. While inspired by the past, by traditions and customs, by geography and ways of life, it will be defined in the future by whatever we make today.

So… what should we do? What Island culture can we make together?

‘Help! I Think I’m a Nationalist’ tours the Island from 14th-16th February. You can book tickets by clicking here

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