Hotelier Marje Tracey has lived in Blackpool for 19 years – but is learning to see it with new eyes.
That’s thanks to new heritage tour guides trained to the same exacting standards as Britain’s esteemed Blue Badge guides who lead tours of our historic cities.
The first scheduled guided tours for locals and visitors start next week and run monthly though to October.
But local hoteliers have been enjoying a sneak preview. Fifty landladies put the new guides through their paces at the refurbished Winter Gardens last week.
And yesterday more did the same at Stanley Park – the people’s park.
Marje runs the small but highly-rated Come-ye-In on Hornby Road, in Blackpool’s traditional holiday heartland.
That makes her an invaluable ambassador for the new tours – but she believes in experiencing something before recommending it.
It’s worth noting most of the folk on the two tours to date are from the smaller hotels and guesthouses – not the bigger names.
Marje adds: “We’re on the frontline of the holiday trade. I want to spread the word to guests. It helps them have a lovely time.”
Marje was so impressed by the Winter Gardens tour she leapt at the chance to see Stanley Park.
She said: “Often when you live in an area you’re the last to see the sights or just take them for granted. You think you know a place but you don’t really, not until you’ve walked through it with people who do.”
A 90-minute stroll in the park – in the company of other tourism traders – put that right.
First up, the fact the 1936 pillar box at the entrance to the park is one of the few to bear the name Edward VIII who abdicated as King and was never crowned.
That is from Blackpool heritage guide David Evans who also ventures the information that what became the Art Deco Cafe was originally intended to be the town hall.
Fellow guide Anne Scholefield points to the Clock Tower and explains it was originally part of a competition to design a war memorial. It became a lasting tribute to the first Mayor of Blackpool Dr William Cocker.
Anne reckons the Other Blackpool starts here. For many of us it’s the real Blackpool. Just as more locals should see the Winter Gardens or Tower more visitors should discover Stanley Park, one of Britain’s best municipal parks.
“We’re about a mile inland from the sea but it’s totally different,” she says.
“This is the hidden gem. And there are so many fun things nearby, the zoo, the woodland gardens, Marton Mere, Model Village. The perfect place for a picnic.”
Fellow guide Ann Faraday appreciates the expertise of the park’s landscape architect Thomas Mawson.
“He designed the grand gardens of the Lake District,” she adds. “He also travelled extensively in Greece. You can see so many influences from his travels here.”
Ann has a degree in international resort tourist management. How would she manage Blackpool?
“Sell it,” she says. “That’s why we’re all here. We’re selling Blackpool. Not just to visitors but residents too. Especially to the residents. They tend to take the town for granted.
“It’s about encouraging people to see Blackpool again through child’s eyes, for the first time. Blackpool is unbeatable. And it’s world class.”
Heather Morrow, Blackpool Council’s very first head of heritage, agrees. She joined the council five years ago, part of the push for World Heritage Site status, a battle best left for another day. But those first faltering steps put Blackpool on the heritage map globally and nationally even if much of the initial press was mocking.
“I don’t think even locals put the words Blackpool and heritage together then,” Heather adds. “They do now.
“And others come here and fall under its spell. We set up heritage champions with the council, Civic Trust, Voluntary Centre and Adult and Community Education. They became advocates for heritage.”
But the official tour guides take it to the next level – nationally accredited and fully trained to Blue Badge Guide standards. Blue Badge guides have level four accreditation and can work anywhere in the UK. Our local guides have level two which makes them site specific – to Blackpool.
“That’s what we need,” adds Heather. “We may not be as ancient as York but we have much to offer. Now we have the guides to promote it. This is all part of Blackpool’s journey. We have a lot of built heritage but we have something even more precious; it’s a place of incredible memories.”
n VisitBlackpool on (01253) 478222, www.visitblackpool.com or call at Festival House’s Tourist Information Centre.
Tickets cost £5 adults, £3 children.