I’m in Bournemouth this weekend…it’s a holiday, by the way, not a punishment, just in case you were wondering.
Like many old British seaside resorts there’s a faded grandeur about the place with a few lovely-looking hotels, a pier and some great countryside nearby. It also has a surprisingly impressive nightlife including a bunch of clubs and pubs that are heaving with young people, particularly students from Bournemouth University.
However, there are also all the depressing aspects of British seaside resorts in abundance here, including extremely variable weather, truly terrible modern buildings, a dishearteningly low standard of food and service in most places and a lack of anything decent to do during the day if the weather is bad (as it is today!).
The British seaside experience is a subject that’s close to my heart as I was brought up in a seaside town. My formative years were spent in Seaford in Sussex. When I lived there the franking on the stamps had a picture of a golfer on it with the legend: “Seaford, for sunshine, serenity and sport” next to him. Hmmph, I used to think, more accurate would be “Seaford, for salt, sewage and senility”.
It really was like that. Seaford is on a promontory and gets terrific gales throughout the year, sweeping salt inland for miles. When I lived there they used to pump raw sewage into the sea daily – didn’t stop me swimming there every summer when I was a child though, mainly because I never thought about it. I like to think it set up a whole load of immunities in me. There was nothing to do there either. The main activities happened in pubs, secondhand shops (calling themselves antique shops) and old people’s homes. When it came to chucking out time in the pubs everyone went down the old people’s homes to check out the action there. Well, at least they had drugs.
It’s still the same – possibly worse (I notice more pound shops when I occasionally drive through now, and the one cinema that used to be there is now a Morrisons). The sign on the coast road coming in from Newhaven says “Welcome to Seaford” – I feel it’s missing the slogan “Abandon hope all ye who enter”.
There’s still nothing to do there, apart from walking over the wonderful cliffs and, of course, going to the sea on the odd occasion when the weather’s good enough.
And that’s the problem with pretty much every seaside town in this country – if the weather’s rubbish there’s pretty much nothing to do. And the weather is usually rubbish. No wonder they’re dying.
It’s so unnecessary – we could have seaside towns that really worked in this country but we’d have to work at it first. Here is my plan for seaside towns to thrive:
- Start from the premise that the sun won’t shine and that it will probably rain. If you start from that point then any sun that does come along is a bonus.
- Using a total lack of sun as a starting point, councils and businesspeople (particularly hoteliers and entertainments managers) then need to think of ways to entertain visitors indoors.
- What can they create that will be of interest to families in particular but also to adults – singles and couples?
- What museums could be set up (fun ones, not dull rubbish that just involves a few dusty pictures and artifacts on walls)?
- There should be at least one large leisure centre with all kinds of classes and fun events as well as a large pool with extras.
- There should be creative activities for all the family that anyone can join – indoors
- More daytime entertainment is needed in theatres and cinemas, and libraries could do more by providing talks and activities for children during the day.
- Hotels should consider setting up games afternoons indoors – even basic board games that any hotel guests can join in. It’s an old-fashioned idea but it can work really well and create real fun for everyone if it’s done properly.
3. We should also accept that everything that is done in our seaside resorts needs to be done a lot better than in other countries. Even in a recession, people will save up to go abroad for guaranteed sunshine and clear blue seas – there are some great, cheap air fares and holiday deals. As we can’t guarantee either at any time of the year, we have to compete in a different way. It used to be that Brits just put up with the weather and the shocking food in our resorts but for the last thirty years or so we’ve had the sunshine and fun of warmer climes to compare with the British experience. No one can afford to be complacent here. We’ve got to raise standards by about a hundred times.
I really would like to see our seaside resorts thriving again. It would take effort but surely we can do it?