Lost pubs: Ascot Arms by Nigel Rumsey

Central Aveue, Gravesend

The Public House, the pub, with maybe the church, was once at the centre of every English community. In my parent’s generation most men, and sometimes women, would have ‘a local’ a place to go and chat with friends about their lives, their troubles, or at least how poorly their football team were playing that week.

Yes, they sold beer, but mostly they were about community. Where I grew in south-east London, they served a very small clientele, that might only be the residents of half a dozen streets. Most of their regulars knew each other, they knew their partners, their parents and their children. It was a very territorial thing, half a mile if that sometimes, further up the road would be another local with its own regulars, another separate, distinct community.

Over the last 25 years, maybe more, that’s changed. In my own town of Gravesend since the turn of the century, 24 pubs have closed. Granted we started with a lot, being an old port on the Thames, Gravesend had more than its fair share of pubs. Nevertheless, the attrition rate is shocking.

The Ascot Arms is the latest to close, finally shutting its doors earlier this year. The brewery has advertised for new tenants, but it seems more likely it'll be turned into yet another convenience store, or demolished and the land used for housing. The Ascot Arms started life as the Central Hotel; opening in 1932. It’s a huge rambling place, so it’s hardly surprising the latest landlord struggled to keep it open.

Part of an ongoing project.

The Day I Photographed a Rodeo by Nigel Rumsey

Watching the rodeo, Hayesville, North Carolina

Earlier this year when planning our trip to North Carolina, I saw the ideal opportunity to fulfil my ambition to photograph a rodeo. 

After much time spent with Google, I settled on the Bar W Rodeo. My decision was based in no small part on the fact it is held at the brilliantly named Cutworms Corral, a proper actual corral! The Cutworms Corral is close to Hayesville, NC, we found a chalet to rent on Chatuge Lake, just outside Hiawassee which is about 15 miles away across the border in Georgia.

Friends at the Rodeo, Hayesville, NC

North Carolina is an incredibly beautiful part of the country bounded to the west by the Appalachian mountains and the east by the Atlantic ocean. As you fly into Raleigh/Durham airport, the landscape all the way to the horizon is entirely carpeted with trees. The buildings and roads are on land neatly carved from the forest. 

Shooting the rodeo was an amazingly exhilarating experience and something I’d love to do again. My one mistake was to go on Saturday evening. The rodeo is held across two days; if I'd gone on Friday I would have been back on Saturday night to shoot again. 

I’ve made a small book featuring some of my favourite shoots including the ones you see here. 

My introduction to the book:
Finding Hayesville, North Carolina (pop. 311), on the map is not easy. If you do, look to the northeast and the green of the Nantahala National Forest. It’s early evening you are travelling along the Tusquittee Creek Road, heading deeper into the forest. Before the sun goes down, you can glimpse the beautiful Hiwassee River on your left. Sections of the river have local names reminiscent of earlier times, Schoolhouse branch, Mull Cove and just ahead is Greasy Creek. Go through Tusquittee, take the bridge on the left over the river and the Cutworms Corral will be in sight. If you’re lucky, and it's rodeo time, a cowboy will be at the gate to welcome you.
This literal dot on the map is where I find myself. It’s May 2017, and this is my first rodeo. We park our rental - almost the only vehicle that isn’t either a truck or an SUV - in the field next to the corral. I’m feeling just a little out of my comfort zone.
The show starts as it always does here with the singing of the National Anthem and a heartfelt thank you to the members of the military in the crowd. From then to the end of the night I am strangely in my element.

Riding the bull at a rodeo

Steer wrestling, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding hadn’t played much of a part in my experience growing up in South London. Apart from TV, I don’t think I’d even seen a bull until I was out of my teenage years, so the prospect of riding one seems crazy to me. To be fair, it soon became apparent it seems pretty crazy to most of the crowd. But ride them they did - even if, in most cases, it wasn’t for very long.
Much of the time I don’t have a clue what was going on. But the imagery is wonderful. I feel as though I’ve found a seam of gold in these North Carolina hills and I just can't stop digging. This is the second day of a two-day meet, and I'm kicking myself for not being there on day one.

Rodeo cowboy

I take my hat off to the brave women and men who take part; they put on an amazing show. This certainly won't be my only visit to a rodeo, and it’s unlikely to be the last time I navigate the Tusquittee Creek Road.

After the rodeo

You can find more of my rodeo shots here and the book here.

Mecca-on-Thames by Nigel Rumsey

Marks & Spencer, Bluewater shopping centre

Gravesend like so many towns is caught between the twin threats of online shopping and the out-of-town mall. In our case that is Bluewater. 

Built in a former chalk quarry the Bluewater site occupies 240 acres and has 154,000m2  of sales area, making it the fourth-largest shopping centre in the UK and the sixth largest in Europe. It has 330 stores, 40 cafés and restaurants, a 13-screen cinema and parking for 13,000 cars. This is a shopping destination.

It’s something of a blessing and a curse employing 7,000 people many of whom live in Gravesend.  Yet the overwhelming majority of the stores are national or international chains so the bulk of that revenue heads of elsewhere. Bluewater serves over 27 million visitors a year, that’s a huge number of drivers on local roads, very few spending other than at the centre itself.

What to do? Gravesend certainly can’t ignore the behemoth only 5 miles west. I for one would hate to see it become a ‘theme town’ resting on its history and connection to the Thames, but I’m not sure I know the alternative.

Sanctuary: talking with Steve Nolan by Nigel Rumsey

Steve Nolan, Sanctuary Project Manager

Steve Nolan, Sanctuary Project Manager

“Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, come to the community and share the gospel”. I’m sitting in the small very busy office at Sanctuary, the night shelter for the homeless in Gravesend, talking to Steve Nolan. Steve and his wife Lorna are the unpaid Project Managers for Sanctuary. Steve is explaining the mission of their church the City Praise Centre. An ex-policeman Steve is a big guy, although quietly spoken I can imagine him being quite imposing in a police uniform. Today he looks tired, really tired. This is no easy retirement.

Steve spent 30 years serving with the Police and then working for a local authority, much of that time justifying for one reason or another why he couldn’t help the people Sanctuary now exists to care for. Lorna worked in education and in 2015 after a year Steve describes as their ‘year of hell’ they both found themselves out of work.

Guests at Sanctuary night hostel, waiting for opening time

At that time the lead pastor of their church Tom Griffiths and his wife were going out onto the streets in the evening to help people sleeping rough. Steve said at times he’d go with them “we found people sleeping in doorways, sleeping behind bins, people sleeping in tents. We’d chat to them, share a cup of coffee.” In October that year, Tom asked them if they’d like to go to a meeting in a local town where the organisers of the night shelter there were talking about their experiences. Steve jokes, he answered, “not really”. “It was on a Friday evening and we had a regular meeting with friends which we didn’t want to miss.” At 6 o’clock that evening the friends called to say they couldn’t make it. “We took that as a sign that God wanted us to go to that meeting in Dartford.”

Steve and Lorna came back determined they had to do something similar in Gravesend. They met with their church, ”within five weeks of that first meeting Sanctuary was birthed.” 

Getting beds ready for the night, Sanctuary night hostel

“We called a meeting to ask for volunteers, we put out chairs for 60 people, we thought 60 would turn up and we got 180. Everybody was up for it.” It seemed incredible timing, the community centre in which we’re sitting, part of the Methodist Church, was being refurbished. Steve and Lorna were out of work and they had more volunteers than they expected. “We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. We had no idea how to run a night shelter, we just made it up as we went along.”

Hostel volunteers and guests chatting over dinner

In a way it’s a contradiction to refer to a homeless shelter as a success - the best success would mean not needing the shelter in the first place. However, by any measure, this is a success. Last year, Sanctuary had 104 individual guests, they prevented hundreds of nights spent on the streets.

“We had no idea how to run a night shelter, we just made it up as we went along.”

In the first six weeks of this winter they’ve had 95 guests, they have washed 334 bundles of laundry, 302 showers taken, 822 meals served and 481 items of clothing have been given out. Those 95 guests would have spent 202 nights in cars, tents or on the streets. Most importantly, with the help of other agencies including Porchlight and the Home Office, 23 people are no longer guests, they have been rehomed.

Volunteers pray at the start of each evening

Volunteers pray at the start of each evening

All the time we’re talking volunteers are coming in the office asking questions. One of the volunteers asks Steve if he wants dinner, Lorna thinks he ought to eat. 


During 2016 a drop-in shelter was launched. Steve explains, “It seemed wrong to run from January to March and then say ‘bye, you’re on your own’. So we extended to a drop-in centre that would only provide meals.” Now the Methodist church opens the centre during the day so that the guests can access the showers.

Dinner for one of the guests

I ask about the future. I can’t help thinking that without Steve and Lorna Sanctuary could easily come to an end. It takes a special person to dedicate so much of their life like this. For people with such a social conscience that must be a weight to bear.

It’s not until after I realise he doesn’t really answer the question. He does say he’d like to see the shelter open more than three nights a week. There are currently 130/140 volunteers, he estimates to open seven nights a week they’d need more than double that number. “We see Sanctuary as an advocate for the homeless. We are on the frontline and help where we can. Lorna and I are supposed to be retired, we don’t get paid to do what we do. We get by on my pension and Lorna’s small pension.”

Sanctuary guest resting before dinner

Steve’s dinner arrives. Meatballs with a tomato sauce, pasta and salad followed by a dessert. It looks great.

“We see God as making us available, our meeting was cancelled on the Friday night so we could go to Dartford, we had 180 volunteers when we expected 60, at the same time this building was available. I don’t believe in coincidence, I like to think of it as God-incidence. I think that God prepares you for times such as this. If this is all God intended me to do in my life that’s fantastic.”

A guest eating corned beef

Each shift at Sanctuary is run by a coordinator and several volunteers that in theory is so Steve and Lorna don’t need to be there all the time. However, every time I’ve been there so are they.

We are interrupted by the Sanctuary phone with it’s Superman ringtone. Steve laughs, “When I first started this I thought I was Superman. I soon realised I wasn’t. I can’t do this on my own. We come here because we like the interaction with the guests. If we were just project Managers and we never came here that wouldn’t work for us. We do it because we love it.”

There are more images from Sanctuary here.

Sanctuary is completely funded by donation - if you’d like to help.

Sanctuary by Nigel Rumsey

Lorna Nolan, Sanctuary Project Manager

I’m not sure what I expected but it wasn’t this. 

Steve Nolan is showing me around Sanctuary, a night shelter for the homeless. He and his wife Lorna are the full-time Project Managers for the shelter. Project Manager could lead you to believe Steve and Lorna are being paid for the incredible amount of work they do, that’s not the case, they’re volunteers like everyone else I meet here.

Sanctuary beds ready for guests.

Steve explains this is their second winter. Sanctuary started in 2015 and runs three nights a week from the start of December to the end of March. They’d like to do more but there just isn’t the money or the number of volunteers to cope. The majority of volunteers come from local churches, but faith isn’t a requirement. More than one person explains, "You don’t have to be a believer to be a good person". Each night has three shifts, evenings are probably the busiest, getting everyone booked in, fed and those that want one through the single shower.

A partition gives women guests some privacy.

Sanctuary’s base is a Community Centre which backs onto the Methodist Church in the centre of the town. There’s a hall where the guests sleep; a small partition gives some privacy to female guests. There’s also a kitchen, a dining room, the shower, toilet and a busy courtyard for smoking.

Food in the kitchen ready for dinner.

Dinner this evening is chicken curry, rice and naan bread followed by peach crumble and custard. Janet and Peter are busy in the kitchen, the food looks good. Peter explains he works for Ikea, I ask if he enjoys it. "If you accept that all retail means working weekends and evenings then it's a great place to work." He's taken time off so he can help out at Sanctuary in the run up to Christmas.

I'm talking to some other volunteers while Lee is waiting for his shower. He sorts through a large holdall of clothes. Guests can leave dirty washing which another group of volunteers will wash the following day. 

Lee finds a mobile phone in his bag.

A Brazilian girl, who works as a youth Pastor for a local church, and her boyfriend are organising the shower rota. She explains it can take a while to get everyone through the shower. Some guests like to linger under the hot water, which is understandable, but they don't want to be still doing this at midnight. In amongst his washing, Lee finds a mobile phone, he’s no idea where it came from. “Look, Miss, it works!” There’s something about his old-fashioned formality which is utterly disarming. We talk about the benefits of old Nokia phones and the Brazilian girl teases her boyfriend about the failures of Gillingham FC.

The welcome desk in several languages.

Other guests slowly trickle in. A small group of Polish men arrive they’re obviously regulars. Gravesend sits on the route between the channel crossings and London, so the town gets a large number of overseas visitors. This is probably not how they imagined life would be when they left home to come to the UK.

It’s cold for December. Winter in the south-east generally doesn’t get going until after Christmas but today it’s just above freezing and the wind makes it feel much colder. I suddenly become aware there’s a difference between knowing that people sleep rough and knowing people who sleep rough. It’s not one I think I’ll ever forget.

Trevor in the kitchen preparing dinner.

I only had a couple of hours for this first visit and I leave before dinner is served, but already Sanctuary has made an impression on me. I’m not sure what I expected but it wasn’t this.

More images here.

365 Project by Nigel Rumsey


I’ve, possibly foolishly, started a 365 project for 2017. If you’re not familiar with the concept it’s a project some photographers undertake to free themselves from the confines of what they have to shoot and allow themselves to play a little. 

I’ve started it for that reason but also because I mainly work from home and, especially in the winter, it can be just too easy to stay in the house. My project is focused on my local town, Gravesend, Kent. Basing it locally should give me another reason to go for a walk each day. 

The third reason is I’m working on a long-term documentary project locally (more of that soon) and walking around with a camera is a great way of meeting people in the town.


I’ve explained on the first post that these first few images were shot on 1st January and I developed the film yesterday. I rather recklessly took that opportunity to try a different method for developing the film (stand-developing for those who are interested). For some reason, the film is under-developed which accounts for at least some of the chunky grain. I’ll revert to regular processing until I’ve improved the results stand-developing.