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Wed 29 Aug 2012 11:00 BBC Radio 4

28 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 29 August 2012

"The Island" is what everyone calls it. The Isle of Sheppey is a forgotten corner of Kent, an island 11 miles long tucked behind London at the mouth of the Thames and the Medway. The harbourmaster looks out from her high-tech tower within a Napoleonic era fortress over thousands of craft who plough the strait heading for the port of Sheerness, laden with bananas and cars. At the far end of the island from the port, vast acreages of caravans and dumpy chalets spread in serried rows from the sea's edge, ready to house East-End families for the long summer break. In between, birdsong-filled marshland fringes the water and the wind ceaselessly tears through the high-standing reeds. Sheppey boasts three prisons and once housed glass factories ('the Bottleworks') and Royal Doulton ceramics ('the Potteries'). The steelworks recently closed and now only Sheerness port, with its huge inflow and outpouring of motor vehicles and soft fruit, timber and wood-pulp keep industrial wheels turning. Unemployment is high, and prospects are low.

A modern road bridge now connects the island with the rest of Kent, which many regret; yet Sheppey remains a lonely place and not easy to reach; special, they say; strange, other.

Jean, Glenn, Ray and the rest of their large extended family have lived almost all their lives on Sheppey - they tell a tale of hard lives, tough times, and of a place they love, that has shaped their lives and that they'd not leave willingly.

Reporter: Sara Parker
Producer: Simon Elmes.


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