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St Leonards-on-Sea’s A Town Explores A Book 2024 festival runs through the school spring holiday with fun, free family activities and exhibitions on a trail that extends from the sea up to the Four Courts high rise neighbourhood.

The book choice this year is The Railway Children. The creative projects featured in the festival explore an aspect of E. Nesbit’s book published in 1905.

The festival opens on Saturday 30th March, the Saturday of the Easter weekend, with a street party in Kings Road offering free fête-style activities in a road decorated with red petticoat flags referencing the famous moment in the book when the children stop a train from crashing into a landslide.

Visitors can enter the road at 11am to collect a ticket for a scurry around the shops where answering easy quiz questions about the book earns a clip to their ticket. Collect all the ‘clips’ for a fun surprise.

Children will be able to fashion their own cardboard carriages with artists Sheffa Katz and Aria Stainton and process up and down the road led by a magical engine created by sound artist, Sam Brown. Children preferring to beep car horns can form an orderly queue at a created cardboard road crossing where a very colourful set of barriers will descend. It will be a fantastic fun way to learn how to keep safe near the railway. The street party also includes free family print making and ceramics workshops and a dog show with registration for three classes at 11am and three further classes at 1pm.

Artist ARRAN will be inviting adults to wheel a barrow up the road with a chosen number of weighted bags to find out what work was like for rail labourers, ‘navvies’, who build the railway. This activity relates to the National Heritage Lottery Fund and Chalk Cliff Trust funded Platform Panel Project at St Leonards Warrior Square Station which highlights St Leonards-on-Sea’s fascinating railway history. At the opening of this project at 12.30pm, festival young ambassadors Aishah, Rupert and Ghost, young people who live in the town, will cut the ribbon. The festival ambassadors represent the central characters in E. Nesbit’s famous book, Roberta, Peter and Phyllis. They demonstrate the key aim of the festival: to explore how a heritage book relates to life today.

Collect the festival trail map to enjoy outdoor art 24/7 through the school spring holiday including 3000 school children’s drawings on the Asda station path and free indoor activities at festival hubs Archer Lodge on Charles Road and The Four Courts Wellbeing Hub open week days during the festival period, 11am – 4pm. Exhibitions at the venues have been created by Cabaret Mechanical Theatre working with 200 children, Hastings and Bexhill Mencap’s Active Arts, the Four Courts Community and Stitch tlc.

For more information on the A Town Explores A Book festival delivered by ExploreTheArch theatre company working with the ATEABFUnds team, supported by Sussex Community Foundation and Making It Happen – East Sussex through Hastings Voluntary Action :

Caption: festival ambassadors Aisha represents Phyllis, Rupert channels Peter and Ghost is St Leonards-on-Sea’s very own Roberta as the town explores E. Nesbit’s famous book, The Railway Children, on the anniversary of the author’s death.

Read about the choice of book for ATownExploresABook23 in the Hastings Independent Press.

The 2022 A Town Explores A Book festival centres around Rumer Godden’s The Diddakoi on the 50th anniversary of its publication. Festival director, Gail Borrow outlines what’s in store in this Hastings Independent Press article.