London filmmakers focus their cameras on Hayling Island life

Over the past two decades Ashley Pugh and Lisa Downs, founders of Strict Machine film company, have led jet-set lives making documentaries, music videos, and hosting trendy events around the globe.

Tuesday, 28th April 2020, 5:43 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th April 2020, 5:44 pm
Ashley Pugh and Lisa Downs on the red carpet at The Baftas.

Their fast-paced world revolved around London as their base.

But all that changed for the couple in just one weekend five years ago when they visited Hayling Island and fell in love with it.

And now Ashley and Lisa, who are used to walking the red carpet at glitzy events, are using their skills to boost the island’s profile.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Hayling Island Life donkey sanctuary logo.

Ashley, 48, smiles as he recalls how it happened: ‘I’d always wanted to go to Hayling so one weekend we came down here in our 1970s’ VW camper van and just loved it.

‘The next weekend we were down and viewing houses and within three months we were living in the house we are in now.’

The couple travel around the world making documentaries and realised it is just as convenient to live on the coast as it is in London.

Lisa, 37, was born in Chester but brought up in Hong Kong and Australia, before moving to London in 2008. But Hayling is the first place that has felt like home to her.

Bug Wrightson and Oppo the search and rescue dog. One of the subjects of Lisa and Ashley's mini Hayling documentaries

She says: ‘There is a really beautiful sense of community. It’s the first place in years where I’ve actually known my neighbours.

‘We go round for dinner, support them, drop off food.

‘It’s like a kind of club. If you meet someone from Hayling there is an instant connection.’

Having enjoyed the nature and the sense of community so much, Ashley and Lisa decided they wanted to give something back.

With their award-winning film-making skills they are building up a collection of documentaries chronicling island lives.

From artists, to furniture-makers, search and rescue teams, to bee-keepers and charities, the couple are shining a light on local heroes.

Ashley says: ‘As documentary filmmakers we travel the world looking for interesting stories and it struck me that Hayling’s community was full of people with amazing lives and stories of their own.

‘As a fun project we decided to start a series of mini-documentaries that celebrated the island and its people with a YouTube channel to showcase them called Hayling Island Stories.

‘Over time we hope to build a real repertoire of the many talents and passions of the people of Hayling Island.’

Hayling Island Donkey Sanctuary is one of the documentary subjects. It is currently struggling with the huge downturn in its finances because of the coronavirus.

Ashley has also started a clothing range, Hayling Island Life, and in a bid to help the sanctuary he has designed a donkey T-shirt.

‘To be honest, our lives have not really changed under lockdown, we have all our filming and editing equipment here. The only difference is we have had to postpone filming in America for a while.

‘But for others on the island it has had a huge impact. Tracey and Paul Hunt have devoted their lives to the wellbeing of donkeys and they are struggling so I wanted to do something. One hundred per cent of all profits from the donkey T-shirt will go to the sanctuary and 25 per cent of all profits from sales of any of the designs over the summer will be donated to them.’

Lisa is an accomplished producer and director while over his career Ashley has been nominated and won many awards for his work.

Ashley was responsible for the production of more than 200 music videos, commercials, TV documentaries, live events, and films with his previous company, which he sold to set up Strict Machine with Lisa when they moved to Hayling.

The community work Lisa and Ashley are doing on the island is a world away from their lives in the Big Smoke.

Lisa says: ‘It is a complete 180 degree change compared to living in London. We love the nature, and community.

‘We got a dog when we moved here and love to watch the sun rise. We watch people fishing, kayaking, and paddle boarding at the beach.

‘In London everyone is stressed-out all the time, but on Hayling everyone loves to be here.’

To watch the films go to YouTube.com and search for ‘Hayling Island Stories’.

To buy a donkey T-shirt go to haylingislandlife.com.