by Jacqui Morley
OK, Blackpool or Bognor? It’s your choice. Chat to any holidaymaker and the answer is self evident. In the allegedly dying words of the late King George V “B***** Bognor.”
He stayed there to recuperate from a chest infection which later killed him. Even George’s disdain didn’t stop Bognor acquiring a Regis to its title.
Blackpool Regis. It has a ring to it. But there’s no chance alas, not with Blackpool riding so high in the latest social deprivation survey we’re likely to get nosebleeds just looking at it.
Number one. Well, you know what they say - the bigger they are the harder they fall.
And Blackpool’s the biggest, brightest and best of the lot.
Scratch any seaside resort and social deprivation rises to the surface. It’s the legacy of changing times.
Blackpool effectively invented mass seaside tourism for the working classes born of the industrial north - cotton, ship building, steel, mining.
Today we stand at the top of yet another social deprivation chart - groundhog day revisited. As if we hadn’t had enough of the public health statistics and the blackspots for child welfare and unemployment and... the list goes on.
To add insult to injury statisticians are effectively telling us - residents, visitors - we would be better off in...Bognor.
Or Worthing, Poole, Christchurch, Southport or Lytham St Annes, our posher neighbour.
For these are the super six seaside resorts said to be bucking the national decline.
Try telling that to the tourists teeming in to enjoy all that
socially deprived Blackpool has to offer.
Especially with Blackpool on the brink of the deal breaker for other resorts; the one thing (if you forget The Tower, three Piers, Pleasure Beach , etc, etc) that sets us apart from the likes of Bognor and Worthing. Our Illuminations. The stage is being set as we speak.
Not that we can turn a blind eye to the latest survey – although even the council seems unwilling to comment on this one.
For it is compiled by the big daddy of statisticians – the Office for National Statistics.
They say we may welcome more visitors a year than any other UK coastal town – and this year looks set to break recession records – but Blackpool also clocks up the highest level of deprivation of the larger English seaside destinations.
Or did at the last count – in 2010. Yes, three years ago. We are followed by Clacton in Essex, once the centre of Palaeolithic flint tool manufacture and now a retirement town, and Hastings in East Sussex, famous for a battle which actually took place nearby and for having two funicular railways today.
At least there’s no north-south divide this time.
Spare a thought for Hastings where the only way is West Sussex – where Worthing and Bognor Regis are doing very nicely, thank you.
But the super six have nowhere near the public health, housing or unemployment issues - or bank of B&Bs transferring to other use or stuck on the for sale market waiting for the tide to turn - Blackpool has.
The ONS reports: “Our analysis has considered levels of deprivation in larger English seaside destinations, which may have once thrived on seaside resort tourism.
“The perceived extent of their decline is so great that during the 2010 election campaign, all three major political parties discussed the problems facing British seaside settlements.
“The larger seaside destinations with the highest average deprivation levels were Blackpool, Clacton and Hastings.”
While 20 per cent of England overall was considered deprived in 2010, the figure for the 31 larger English seaside destinations was 26.9 per cent - a rise of 0.9 per cent on the 2007 figure of 26 per cent.
The biggest areas of deprivation were in health and disability, employment, housing and services.
But that was then - where do we stand now? Here are at least some reasons to be cheerful...
CREATING A BETTER BLACKPOOL
Blackpool Civic Trust president and Friends of Stanley Park chairman Elaine Smith, former hotelier, says: “It really is time to say enough is enough. We have a new civic centre taking shape in the town centre which will be the base of all council offices - instead of spread across the town which was a huge waste of money. It’s been a struggle to cope with roadworks but the results are taking shape and will galvanise the town. The council has breathed new life into The Tower and Winter Gardens and St Johns Square. The promenade has never looked better. Holiday streets such as St Chads and Bairstow Street - at the heart of one of the most socially deprived districts – have transformed their appearance ... it just takes a couple of hoteliers to start the process with some hanging baskets. Stanley Park not only looks superb but is attracting more visitors. Our heritage open days are about to start ... a few years ago we had about six places involved, now there are 50. Blackpool has civic pride.”
GIVING KIDS A BETTER START
Blackpool is out to unlock up to £50m to help the town’s most deprived children get a better start. It follows a £400k windfall from the Big Lottery this week to help the NSPCC work with council, health authorities and voluntary sector to identify gaps in existing services. The partnership will bid for between £30m-£50m Lottery cash for projects to transform vulnerable children’s lives. Health chiefs identified three key areas to improve children’s development - communication and language, diet and nutrition and social and emotional development. Council leader Simon Blackburn says Blackpool’s breakfast club (free breakfasts at primary schools) is paying off in health, welfare and school attendance terms.
Blackpool is blazing the trail for national best practice in disability-led projects. Stephen Brookes, Bispham-based Ambassador for Disability Rights UK, says: “In spite of some negative national messages, the achievements of disabled people and their organisations is having a real impact on the community. Welfare reform and benefit cuts are causing some real fears but balanced against that, the community is seeing real gains from the mass of voluntary work and involvement successfully undertaken by disabled people across Blackpool.”
A new Safe Journey card has been created in a joint effort by Blackpool Transport, disabled people, Highfurlong School, and the Office For Disability Issues, where Mr Brookes is a steering group member of the Disability Action Alliance.
He explains: “The card is a winner as it allows all disabled people access to public transport, and we are grateful to Blackpool Transport for their initiative in creating this valuable asset for disabled people.
“It’s now at the centre of negotiation with other bus operators across the UK including the massive First Group and we’ve been approached by disability organisations in other parts of the UK, looking to start something similar.”
Disability First’s work to challenge to disability hate crime has also won national recognition from Minister for Disabled Ester McVey, Association of Chief Police Officers, Crown Prosecution Service and MPs. “The confidence in reporting disability related incidents in Blackpool has increased by over 200 per cent - which demonstrates the power of the Blackpool model,” adds Mr Brookes.
BLACKPOOL BACK ON THE MAP
Some of the biggest shows in Britain are coming to Blackpool this year, including Will Young in Cabaret and Tommy Steele starring in Scrooge at the Opera House. Blackpool Pleasure Beach celebrates the 90th birthday of the Big Dipper tonight; a brand new ride, Thrill O Matic, is the big hit for this season. The Lights switch on with Jonathan Ross is on Friday August 30 and The Script playing a full gig at The Tower Festival Headland with special guest Eliza Doolittle. Madness will play a second switch-on gig on Saturday August 31. It’s masterminded by Marketing Blackpool which was set up in November 2011 with the intention of establishing Blackpool as the premier Europe seaside resort. Next Tuesday thousands of cyclists will take part in Ride the Lights. As well as lobbying central Government for a greater share of Coastal Communities cash, The Gazette is campaigning for the restoration of Virgin’s direct rail link with London and a reduction in VAT on accommodation and ticket prices. David Cam, company secretary and director of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, adds: “The Treasury appear blind to the extraordinary opportunities which a reduced level of VAT on tourism products bring to the British economy.”
ONE HUNDRED APPRENTICES IN 100 DAYS
Blackpool may have 1,700 16 to 24 year olds not in education, employment or training but it’s doing something about it.
The campaign to fill 100 apprenticeships within 100 days has hit the road and a recruitment stall is outside Sports Direct on Bank Hey Street between 10am and 4pm. Blackpool Council say it’s important to get the message out about apprenticeships because it “not only increases employment chances but it helps them grow as an individual.”
The road show is a great way of getting the message out to young people who are in the town centre during the summer holidays and look forward to seeing its success. Blackpool took on the challenge two weeks ago.
Thirty new posts have been created since, with more to come.
Transferring public health to Blackpool Council has led to more targeted local campaigns to address health issues in town, from encouraging locals to check their blood pressure (by displaying the BP of leading locals on public transport) to highly specific campaigns to reduce obesity, encourage exercise and greater responsibility for personal health.
Of many initiatives currently running two programmes stand out - Choose to Change (for those at highest risk from a hefty body mass index) and Energise, a 12 week weight loss exercise and nutrition course.
Both are free to join.
The face of social housing is set to change with high rise tower blocks about to tumble at Queen’s Park. Blackpool Coastal Housing has handed over the site to housing regeneration specialists Lovell for the first phase, the demolition of the first two tower blocks and the creation of 92 new homes.
By March 2015 the second phase will start. Council leader Simon Blackburn says it will not only help to increase Blackpool’s housing supply, providing a better choice of quality homes within an attractive residential environment but regenerate the neighbourhood and support more sustainable communities.