‘Michael Heseltine would really sort out Blackpool’

Mick Grewcock
Mick Grewcock
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Anyone who has met Mick Grewcock knows he can talk for England let alone for Blackpool, but despite hailing from the village of Barwell in Leicestershire he wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to opinions about his adopted home town.

With his life and business partner Sheila Chick – “she’s from the next village called Burbage - the posh end, the Wrea Green part, I’m from the equivalent of Mereside” – they have become unofficial ambassadors for the resort.

They own the award winning Burbage Holiday Group – aka the luxurious five and four star Queens Mansions and the like-minded Burbage Holiday Lodge a few doors further down Queens Promenade in Bispham.

Despite being dubbed “Mr and Mrs Bispham” and being together 25 years they still haven’t “got round” to marrying.

“We were going to be the first to get married in the promenade wedding chapel,” says Mick. “The late Steve Weaver, leader of the council, said it would be ideal for us to do it, he said we were such a part of Blackpool so it would be ideal for us but we never got round to it – we were so busy.”

That was last Leap Year.

“Now I’m 73 and Sheila’s 70 and it’s Leap Year again in 2016 so you never know.”

But why settle in Blackpool?

“I was brought up being here. There were the wonderful George and Alfred Black shows which I can’t explain to people these days, they don’t understand the spectacle of 20 dancing girls, a full orchestra in the pits, dancing waters, flying ballet.

“It was a magic place in those days, heaving, nice, it was top draw in the world so I had a love affair with it and to see all the great stars of the 50s and 60s was a privilege which I don’t think people will see again unfortunately.”

It also helped that his parents had lived here since 1960 and left him a house.

“We moved here in 1990, bought a business, we came here with very little money, but started off with some capital from the house sale, put a bit down, borrowed a bit like you do and that’s how we got started.”

He’s actually a former shop fitter and - like his father before him - a trained joiner.

“It gave me a bit of showmanship - give them something to look at, push it over and present it, that’s what it’s all about.” But there’s more to the luxury of the Burbage Holiday Group apartments than showmanship. Wouldn’t it have been easier to open a bargain basement B&B?

“No, there were and still are too many. When we started out Blackpool was way over-subcribed with places which were not really good enough,” he says. “People go abroad to quality apartments, they go to Cornwall and the Lake District in apartments more than they do hotels and we were sadly short of good quality apartments in Blackpool. We were the first people to get four stars. Before us it was all strip lights and chip paper.”

Sounding more like “My Bispham” than “My Blackpool” Mick says their location was no accident.

“It would be no use you doing four and five star apartments - and I don’t mean this with any disrespect - in Albert Road.

“It wouldn’t work there but we are on Bispham Promenade, we’ve got all the lovely restaurants in Red Bank Road, a massive Sainsbury’s, wine bars, ice cream parlour, trams opposite, it’s a 100% perfect position for this sort of quality.

“You can get the Blackpool razzamatazz if you want it or you can escape from it on a tram into the likes of Cleveleys.”

Most of their guests don’t even bother to use their cars, he says.

But if it literally was his Blackpool what would he do? “Warts and all? I’d get someone in to sort it out. Margaret Thatcher would have quite willingly bulldozed Liverpool into the sea after the Toxteth riots, but she put in my hero Michael Heseltine.

“He’s not as wealthy as he is by being an idiot and he sorted it out so well that the Labour leader of Liverpool Council granted him the Freedom of the City. He’s done a wonderful job tapping in to sources of revenue that no one could.

“We need someone like that in Blackpool. The city’s needs came before politics.”

Mick’s own politics aren’t too thinly disguised – he’s chairman of Bispham Conservative Club.

So what’s to be done until we get a Heseltine?

“There’s too much social housing, we want people to come and live here and play here who have a bob or two to spend and keep places like the Opera House going, to pay proper money to see the shows. Over £30 or £40 and you’d be struggling here, yet in Manchester you pay a fortune and in London it’s double that, yet the poor old Opera House is expected to put shows on for next to nothing and get people in – and then they moan if it’s not good enough.

“We need more people coming in like the ones we get at ours, people with disposable income to spend in the restaurants and in the town and it’s got to be made more attractive to do that.”

He cites Sands Venue owners Peter and Karen Swann as a prime example of what Blackpool needs.

“Strangely they are from the next village to mine in Leicestershire and they are investing millions into Blackpool. We need 18 or 20 Peter Swann’s with money to invest into the town, rather than everybody having to go cap in hand to prop everything up.”

And the council?

“They are not businessmen, how many business people of any party are on the council? They are all good, willing, nice people who mean well for the town but where’s the business acumen?

“In the old days, when they were all business people, they made sure the town worked because if it didn’t then they would lose out, but the old days aren’t here anymore when everybody came so we’ve got to make it more attractive.

“I still love the place and it’s given Sheila and I a damn good living but it’s a sleeping giant, it could be so much more. It’s proved that in the summer and at half term when the weather was nice, the place was booming, but it could be far, far better.”

So what’s missing?

“We need the showmanship, we haven’t got anyone with a voice in Blackpool, we haven’t got a Geoffrey Thompson, or the equivalent of a Michael Heseltine.”

So how about standing for council himself?

“I’m too old,” he admits. “I would have done once, I took over Bispham Conservative Club when it was on its backside and even though clubs are dropping like flies turned it round. We’ve got money in the bank and we are spending on it this winter.

“You have to make things pay, you can’t keep borrowing money for everything like restaurants at the side of the Tower, we should give people confidence to use their own money, why borrow to build a hotel because they won’t risk it themselves? That’s not business to me, the business people should be borrowing the money not the council.”

But is Blackpool just an easy target?

“It’s a problem we’ve got and adverse articles by people such as Coleen Nolan and Jeremy Clarkson don’t do us any good. But we’ve got to go up a gear and rise above it, get more good points through.

“When I go abroad I don’t say ‘I’m from Bispham the posh part,’ I say I’m from Blackpool and they look at me like ‘poor soul, what the heck is he doing living there.’

“It actually hurts me, the perception people have but we’ve got to get above it. Where else have you got a Pleasure Beach, a zoo, three piers, a Winter Gardens, the Grand Theatre, Stanley Park, Merlin’s attractions, the Lake Distict up the road and the Trough of Bowland?

“We just aren’t very good at getting the message across.

“We need people here who know what they are doing and it doesn’t matter what they are paid, if they are good and can bring investment in then pay them.

“Look how Manchester and Liverpool have gone. 30 years ago they were a joke, now we’re the joke. Who’d have ever thought you’d want to go away for a city break for a weekend?We’ve got to up our ante.”

Even so he wouldn’t swap it.

“It’s a big village, everybody knows everybody in the leisure industry, there’s always something on, there’s not a tree and it’s damned windy, but it’s fantastic. I’m still working at 73, my mates are dropping dead and they keep telling me to retire, but I love it, it’s got atmosphere.”

It’s also got dance festivals.
“They are our biggest money spinners, if it was a choice between losing the Illuminations or losing the dance I’d lose the Lights,” he says, adding that their apartments book up years in advance for them.

“We get people from all over the world and they want quality, amenities, room to wash and hang their clothes – privacy.”

He’s the first to point out that their own success is down to hard work and team work.

“Sheila is wonderful, she’s the administrator, she runs everything, she’s the brains and organiser, I’m the mouth and the building side.”

But having come through three battles with cancer does he think Sheila should be slowing down?

“Ironically I think that having all this to focus on keeps her going more than sitting down and doing nothing would.”

And “all this” includes being out several nights a week.

“We eat out a lot,” he says. “If you work in a factory you can’t wait to get home. Because we work from where we live we can’t wait to get out.”

It’s also good public relations.

“We are supporting local businesses,” he says. “We also paid £3,500 last year to the Illuminations and spent nearly £5,000 in the holiday guide. But 15% of our turnover comes through contacts with people and you don’t get that from sitting in a corner, you’ve got to go out, push it over, present it.”

That’s how Blackpool lost the major conferences he reckons.

“We simply weren’t good enough, we let the cities take over, we were sitting back, our big hotels need massive investment but that means massive rack rates, £60 a night won’t put the investment in that the City of London wants. They want a conference centre but it needs to be good enough.

“Everywhere is getting new restaurants not just us. “There’s 160,000 live here and only half of them have got any money to keep these places going, we need people with money to live here and we aren’t attractive enough to get them here.”

What about the Illuminations?

“They need a revamp but where’s the money? You can’t cut the budget then say they’re not as good. How can they be? Where are the big boys when donations are needed? It’s the little ones who cough up.”

He’s even been out collecting himself.

“Non contributors should be named and shamed. Or just switch the Illuminations off then it would hit the fan. See what the big players do then.”

Cheap drinks, cheap accommodation, greedy landlords and a reluctance by central government to treat tourism in the same way as other endangered industries have all played their part in Blackpool’s current image, he reckons.

“But I still love the place. It’s not rocket science to see what needs doing. They can’t just keep saying ‘we’ve got two new restaurants this year’ then borrow another £10 million to build a hotel next to a red light district.

“Blackpool needs a plan and someone committed to what they do. No disrespect to any councillors, I mean they’re lovely people but they’re not with it are they really?”

Would he come here on holiday?

“Yes I would….. to our own apartments!” he says.