Confidence high as Gardens buck trend

The Winter Gardens has played host to Peter Kay and the World Matchplay Darts with Ed Sheeran set to appear in November.
The Winter Gardens has played host to Peter Kay and the World Matchplay Darts with Ed Sheeran set to appear in November.
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GENERALLY speaking, if the Winter Gardens is doing well, the town is too.

And the good news is that the famous venue - which has been entertaining audiences in Blackpool since 1878 - has rarely been in healthier state.

Peter Kay

Peter Kay

Since Blackpool Council shelled out £40m to buy the complex two years ago, and Crown Leisure won a contract to operate the day-to-day running, the Winter Gardens has been going from strength to strength.

The Blackpool Dance Festival and the World Matchplay Darts, attracted the usual huge numbers of visitors to the town, while some eye-catching gigs - including top boy-band One Direction in January - led to sell-outs.

With the likes of music stars Ed Sheeran, Ultravox and Jack White heading to the resort over the next few months, plus comedian Mickey Flanagan and the musical Starlight Express, it is little wonder bosses at the complex is delighted with the way things are going.

David Gore, marketing manager at Winter Gardens, and the man responsible for getting bums on seats for shows and events, said: “I think historically our place is a barometer for the town.

Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran

“From the 60s and 70s onwards, when the advent of package holiday took people away from Blackpool, and Saturday night TV became the thing to do, it was a struggle for theatres in seaside resorts, and being one of the largest theatres we probably struggled more than most.

“But Blackpool is definitely on the way up again now.

“With all the investment which has gone into the town and the Winter Gardens, we are finding people once again have confidence in the venue.”

The Winter Gardens is the kind of place people probably take for granted.

World Matchplay Darts

World Matchplay Darts

A beautiful Victorian building smack bang in the centre of town, it houses the 2,800 seater Opera House, the 3,500 capacity Empress Ballroom (which Ed Sheeran - appearing in November - sold out in a matter of minutes), the Spanish Hall and two smaller rooms - the Renaissance and Baronial.

Blackpool Council have spent the last couple of years sprucing up the building, with renovations and improvements ongoing.

But just because it looks good, the place can’t simply rely on people coming through the door.

Mr Gore said: “It is a two-way street.

“It is important we let people know we’ve got a fantastic array of events on, and these events are bringing business into Blackpool.

“They are supporting the accommodation side, they are supporting the cafes and the restaurants.

“Things like the street-dance festival (held over the Bank Holiday weekend) and the darts - people will come to these events and stay for two or three nights and that is important revenue for the town.

“So that’s why it is a two-way thing. People need to know the events are on, but equally they need to know they are of benefit not just to the Winter Gardens itself but has a knock-on effect to the town too.”

What many might not know is the Winter Gardens doesn’t just open its doors for the big events. It is open every day and boasts a cafe and a restaurant, run by celebrity chef Paul Heathcote.

It can also be hired out for weddings, private parties or conferences.

But its main job is to bring quality entertainment to Blackpool and it believes it is succeeding.

Mr Gore added: “We have Starlight Express in October and November and there are very positive ticket sales for that already.

“I can’t pretend that every show is a sell-out. That isn’t the case. When you’ve got a 3,000-seater theatre you are not going to get sell-outs every week.

“But we know we can get sell outs and promoters know we can get sell-outs and that is the important thing for us because that confidence is there.

“Last year we had the Calendar Girls touring production which beat the target the promoter set us.

“When Peter Kay had the opportunity to do some charity performances last December, he actually chose the Opera House as his venue.

“He said to his manager ‘go and get the Opera House’. We had the dates available and he did two sell-out nights.

“So there is a renewed confidence, I think, in the town and in the venues.”

In tough economic times, it is reassuring to know the Winter Gardens is bucking the trend.

It is hard to imagine the town without it.