I'M sitting in the morning sunshine, breakfasting on a hunk of slightly melted chocolate cake (thanks to the current heatwave), washed down with a cup of black coffee while listening to recorded talks given by a batch of artists, authors and gardening experts, the audio coming from a newly installed Listening Bench.

Yes folks, that's its name, a bench which looks much like any other ordinary garden bench, except it has buttons you can press when you sit on it and then it 'talks' to you. Said Listening Bench is now permanently installed on the veranda of the Georgian house Chalkwell Hall, in Chalkwell Park, thanks to the arts charity Metal which is based there.

Listening Benches were part of the Essex Sounds' You Are Hear project created by the Essex Records Office, which revealed glimpses of our county's diverse heritage via recordings taken from the Essex Sound and Video Archive.

The Essex Records Office donated one to Metal who has the plan to change the recordings every month or so, to include the many interviews and clips they have made with artists, writers, musicians, poets and more, combined with archive material from Metal's massive amount of projects, such as the Shorelines Festival to the colossal Estuary project, Village Green and so on, and from the Essex Records Office.

So far, author and historian Rachel Lichtenstein has taken me on a fascinating journey about the roots of Chalkwell Hall, complete with sound bites from local people talking about how they remember the old house from when they were little; permaculture expert and author Graham Burnett has told me all about the subject and his permaculture project with Metal; I've heard a track from Spiky Black, which has also been used on one of Metal's NetPark apps, about punk and roses, and I've listened to photographer Franck Gerard, talking about his project with the Echo and Metal.

A date with the Listening Bench has not only been delightful, but truly informative. I won't spoil it for you by telling you why, because you can go have a listen yourself anytime you like, after the Listening Bench is unveiled to the public on Thursday July 19.

You can also get the chance to enjoy some cake and beverages with your Listening Bench experience, as the unveiling comes at the same time as the launch of Seven Weeks of Summer, the title for a glorious programme of events about to take place at Chalkwell Hall, hosted by Metal's pop-up Cafe Valise, which you are yours are also invited to.

Open every long weekend, from Thursdays through to Sundays up until Sunday September 2, you can enjoy a rolling roster of music, art, comedy, food, coffee, Prosecco, cocktails, books from the second-hand book store and more…

Get your diary out.

Café Valise – Pop Up: Seven Weeks of Summer

Thursday July 19 – Sunday September 2

Open: every Thurs to Sun, 11am – 6pm (plus evening events)

See metalculture.com for an in-depth programme. Highlights include:-

Open Mic: 15 Minutes of Fame

Every day at 1pm

A platform for local writers, poets, acoustic musicians, singers and artists to showcase work from our Café stage. To book your slot, get in touch at chalkwell@metalculture.com

Lazy Sundays

2pm – 4pm

Live jazz with some of the UKs best musicians and singers, curated by The Jazz Centre UK. What better way to while away a summer afternoon?

Next Generation Thursdays

6pm – 9pm (except Thursday August 16)

Catch the next generation of superstars with the Young singer songwriters and musicians from South Essex perform original material alongside creative covers. Performers are all aged 11 – 19 years. This event is put on in partnership with SoSlam and Village Green: Next Generation.

Open Mic slots are available – contact chalkwell@metalculture.com to find out more.

Permaculture Weekend

Saturday July 21 and Sunday July 22

10am – 4pm (café open till 6pm)

Activities and workshops for all ages exploring Permaculture - a design process, that helps "create intelligent systems which meet human needs whilst enhancing biodiversity, reducing our impact on the planet, and creating a fairer world for us all". Go along to one, or all of the workshops to find out more.

10am – 11am: The Web of Life: Explore the web of connections to be found in nature’s ecosystems, and why these matter for us too!;

11.30am – 12.30pm: Nature Scavenger Art Trail: Observe and explore the world around you and create your own eco-collages.

1pm: Official launch of the newly created, permanent, Permaculture Planters

1.30pm – 2.30pm: Sound Maps: Tune in and turn on to the sounds of the world around you, and create your own individual sound map art work!

3pm – 4pm: Tree Explorer: Get up close to find out more about the trees in your park.

This workshop is run by Spiralseed (spiralseed.co.uk). The new permaculture planters are funded through Make Southend Sparkle.


Various times and dates (check metalculture.com for more in-depth programme)

A series of acoustic sets peppered throughout the seven weeks by a whole host of talented musicians from Southend and further afield, bringing soulful, uplifting and energising music to the park.

Beauty and Chaos

Thursday August 16

7pm – 9pm

An opportunity to meet the Time and Space artist-in-residence, Kana Waiwaiku working with photography, sound and mental health.


Every day all day!

15 digital artworks are in Chalkwell Park, from poetry tours, stories for children to more mindful meanders. These come in the form of GPS audio work, and are funny, moving, thought-provoking and informative.

You can borrow an iPad for FREE from Café Valise, or use your own. Guided tours are available, which focuson different artworks and stories each time at 11am and 2pm on Friday July 20; Saturday July 21; Friday July 27; Friday August 10; Saturday August 18; Saturday August 25. Places are free but limited. Book at metalculture.com/events/cafevalise


Metal operates three Geocache sites in Chalkwell Park, activating programme, games and activities. See geocaching.com for more information and join the world’s largest treasure hunt. Vouchers for free café drinks and treats are left randomly for lucky treasure hunters throughout the summer.

Digital Art Park – Explorers Kit

A summer special! The NetPark team has put together a family activity pack of all the fantastic, digital fun that can be found in the outdoors. From geocache treasure hunts, GPS poetry and discovery apps, there are hours of fun here for the iGeneration! Pick up your copy free from the café or download it from metalculture.com/events/cafevalise

Listening Bench

Take the weight off with a cuppa and a seat on Metal’s newest addition to NetPark, a bench with changing audio, from poetry to conversations with artists. Originally part of the Essex Records Office You Are Hear project, the bench has travelled 260 miles, with 32,000 ‘listens’ in its two-year round-Essex tour!

Book Shop

Everyday 11am – 6pm

New and secondhand literary classics of all genres available to browse and buy with The Book Shop Experience, which will be in residence at Café Valise for the summer.

Programme at a glance

Everyday: 1pm:

Open Mic: 15 Minutes of Fame.

Thursday July 19:

6pm – 9pm: Next Generation Thursday (Anna-Marie Child’s curates)

Friday July 20:

11am and 2pm: NetPark Tours (free but booking required)

Saturday July 21:

10am – 4pm: Spiralseed permaculture workshops for all ages

1pm: Launch of Permaculture Planters

11am and 2pm: NetPark Tours (free but booking required)

Sunday July 22:

10am – 4pm: Spiralseed permaculture workshops for all ages

2pm – 4pm: Lazy Sunday Jazz – Avanti, feat. Trevor Taylor

Thursday July 26:

6pm – 9pm: Next Generation Thursday (Niamh O’Shea curates)

Friday July 27:

11am and 2pm: NetPark Tours (free but booking required)

Saturday July 28:

1pm: 15 Minutes of Fame (happens everyday – book your slot)

Sunday July 29:

2pm – 4pm: Lazy Sunday Jazz

Thursday August 2:

6pm – 9pm: Next Generation Thursday (Lottie Mollica curates)

Friday August 3:

7.30pm – 11pm: Unplugged - Darren Jones and the World Music Band plus Nunhead Folk Circle. (Free but booking required)

Saturday August 4:

7pm – 10pm: PINTS presents… Comedian John Dowie Book Launch (Free but booking required)

Sunday August 5:

2pm – 4pm: Lazy Sunday Jazz

Thursday August 9:

6pm – 9pm: Next Generation Thursday (Leo Clemenson curates)

Friday August 10:

11am and 2pm: NetPark Tours (Free but booking required)

Saturday August 11:

7pm – 10pm: PINTS presents….. £5

Sunday August 12:

2pm – 4pm: Lazy Sunday Jazz – Digby Fairweather and Friends

Thursday August 16:

7pm – 9pm: Meet our artist-in-residence, Kana Waiwaiku. (Free but booking required)

Friday August 17: 7pm – 11pm:

Unplugged - Beckie Margaret; Luke & Jazz (of Asylums); Liam (of ACID) (Free but booking required)

Saturday August 18:

11am and 2pm: NetPark Tours (Free but booking required)

Sunday August 19:

2pm – 4pm: Lazy Sunday Jazz

Thursday August 23:

6pm – 9pm: Next Generation Thursday (Caitlin King curates)

Friday August 24:

1.30pm – 3.30pm: Project 49 presents, Jump up and Join In

Saturday August 25:

11am and 2pm: NetPark Tours (Free but booking required)

7pm – 10pm: PINTS presents….. £5

Sunday August 26:

2pm – 4pm: Lazy Sunday Jazz

Thursday August 30:

6pm – 9pm: Next Generation Thursday (Josie Tullett curates)

Friday August 31:

7pm – 11pm:

Unplugged - Abi Wade; Alexander Carson; South Benfleet Folk Orchestra. (Free but booking required)

Saturday September 1:

Café closed for private booking

Sunday September 2:

2pm – 4pm: Lazy Sunday Jazz – Dylan Howe Trio feat. special guest Snowboy

7pm – 11pm: Farewell to Summer – Special Guest DJ Snowboy (Free but booking required)