Take pride in this town

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Do you know where the gentry of Clifton Street stabled their horses? Or how Blackpool got its name? Or who Queen Vera was? Or just why Councillor Maxine Callow handcuffed herself to Town Hall seating back in 2004?

We’re not telling you – well, not all of it. Not because we’re killjoys, but because there’s never been a better time to find out. Blackpool’s Civic Week starts tomorrow, and by the time it ends, with a street party, at St John’s Square, on July 2, you will see old Blackpool with new eyes.

That’s thanks to one of the highest profile civic trusts in the country. Blackpool Civic Trust was born of the campaign to save the Grand Theatre, the realisation that an active heritage society could have saved the day earlier.

But it really boosted its image with a headline hitting crusade to save Victorian oak seating in Blackpool Town Hall’s committee room A when Coun Callow, then (as now) in opposition, memorably threatened to chain herself to the seating to save it – and made good on that pledge.

The local trust’s protest, direct to the Deputy PM’s Office, failed to save the seats, but chairman Elaine Smith says: “We lost the battle but won the war. The council knew it could never afford to ignore us again. We are, shall we say, a critical friend. I hope that continues under the new leadership.”

It’s been a bumpier ride for national heritage champions. The Civic Trust, umbrella for 750 societies, collapsed after 52 years, entering administration as one of the first big name casualties of council cutbacks two years ago. But when Civic Voice, led by Griff Rhys Jones, set up last summer, as the new national civic movement charity, the very first conference came here to Blackpool.

“We have a reputation for getting things done, which is why others come here to find out what we’re doing that’s so right,” says Elaine.

The former hotelier’s no-nonsense manner makes her a formidable advocate for heritage – without the old elitism associated with such.

“People think we’re just about preserving the past,” says Elaine, “but heritage tourism is the future. It’s very much about now.

“We’re non-political, non-sectarian, and will argue with anybody, and everybody, if we think it’s in the best interests of Blackpool. We believe in Blackpool. We support the changes taking place because the town has to move on to be the best. To those who endlessly carp and criticise and are negative about everything, I say this – there’s a road out of town, take it.”

So when Rhys Jones challenged all civic societies to celebrate their communities with a national Civic Day tomorrow Blackpool went one better, and organised a whole week.

“Civic Day coincides with Armed Forces Day in Blackpool,” admits Elaine. “But, we thought, why begin and end with a day? We’ve more than enough to celebrate.”

The week starts with an exhibition, at Stanley Park Visitor Centre tomorrow, of 25 photographs of Blackpool by pupils from four schools, two secondary, two primary, in Blackpool – although the pity is that the trust asked all 40 schools to get involved.

Elaine reckons the message didn’t get through to those who would have leapt at the chance, particularly with prizes up for grabs. She’s urged council education chiefs to support a re-run of the event later this summer.

“But we have got some cracking entries, the children have really got the message that Blackpool’s all about fun and fresh air.”

Prizes include a family day pass to the Pleasure Beach, one of the trust’s many corporate members, and £100 of camera equipment from another member, St Stephen on the Cliffs Church, Bispham, base of the Actors’ Chapel, and a brand new mosaic, where a blue heritage plaque will be unveiled on Tuesday, by the Bishop of Blackburn, also marking Canon Andrew Sage’s 25th anniversary of ordination.

Vintage Blackpool posters, provided by Tony Sharkey of the Family History unit, go on display at Solaris, Harrowside, on Sunday, from 10am, coinciding with Totally Transport Day’s array of classic cars, buses, coaches and commercial vehicles nearby.

On Monday, locals and visitors can visit the Town hall between 2pm and 4pm to collect a heritage trail quiz, all 38 cryptic clues set by Elaine. More prizes up for grabs, too.

There’s a heritage pub quiz at the Rose and Crown Pub, Corporation Street, at 6pm, on Wednesday, with 20 teams, and historians allowed as spectators only.

There’s a heritage tour by vintage bus, from Solaris, at 2pm, on Thursday, a walking tour with built heritage officer Carl Carrington on Friday, time to be confirmed, and the Civic Trust’s Street Party, St John’s Square, 11am to 4pm, on Saturday, July 2.

“It’s all very Blackpool,” concludes Elaine. “If you don’t start with a sense of civic pride, you’ll leave with some!”