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Snapshot Symposium and Book Launch: Blackpool’s Seaside Heritage

‘Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be’, the old saying goes.  On March 25, The Winter Gardens hosted a symposium on Blackpool’s seaside heritage which wasn’t simply a nostalgic look back over Blackpool’s varied past.  It was not a meeting of people wistfully bathing in past glories for nostalgia’s sake, but a vital pause for thought about celebrating and preserving the heritage of the most unique town in the country.

A day-long, twin pronged event, Snapshot was formed of a symposium during the day at The Winter Gardens follwed by a glitzy official book launch at The Tower in the evening. The book, Blackpool’s Seaside Heritage, is a lovely thing and was on sale during the seminar.  The over-capacity crowd of delegates from all areas that filled the room was snapping them up like hot cakes! After the obligatory three cups of coffee the symposium began.

Carl Carrington stepped up to the podium to welcome us all with his tireless enthusiasm, and brought to the mic Neil Jack, chief executive of Blackpool Council. There are challenges faced by Blackpool and far from shying away from them and painting a whitewashed picture, Jack tackled them head on and discussed what to do to fight ‘the drift’ of visitors away from the town.  He did, however, add that visitor numbers have risen over the last few years which proves that something is being done right. His talk was really about turning the negatives into positives, about finding the best way to embrace, and indeed create, the shifting industries in Blackpool.  To make Blackpool, “fit for the future without forgetting the past.” That phrase is the key for me, trading on nostalgia alone will not bring visitors to our door, but by celebrating the heritage of the town we can create a stronger one.

The next up to the podium was Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage.  His bright and breezy address to Blackpool was a roller coaster ride that veered from J.B. Priestley with his famous quote about Blackpool being “a great spangled beast”, to the practical aspects of creating for residents a deeper understanding of the town which allows them to value it, then to care for it and ultimately enjoy it.

The main speaker for the day was the book’s author Allan Brodie. His fascinating slide show covered 250 years of an ever-evolving Blackpool and was a whistle-stop, time-travelling run from the thatched cottage, beach-side, gender-based bathing days of Blackpool’s birth as a resort, to the sprawling behemoth of attractions we know today. The creation of the piers, The Tower, the hotels and The Pleasure Beach flashed past us as we saw the growth of the town at up to seventy percent in a decade! After his talk those who hadn’t already bought his book were off to the table to get one.

A spirited panel session of the talkers preceded the refreshments. As many of you know, food is always a good way of charming me into the positive, and my what a spread of cakes.  Lovely.

So. Brushing pastry crumbs off my gorged face I sat back down to the second round of speakers.

Mhora Samuel, the director of The Theatres Trust talked about the place of seaside theatre in the twenty-first century, highlighting the decline of their original purpose and how as towns evolve the preservation of theatres has to be addressed both with a heritage perspective of keeping these beautiful buildings from the bulldozers, whilst marrying those aims with a practical aspect. To keep in essence the buildings’ past uses in line with any new development if they cannot still be used as a theatre space. Food for thought, but not without a healthy dose of positivity as she showed the many successes of The Theatres Trust across the country.

Nick Dermott talked enthusiastically about the changing face of Margate next in an often lighthearted look at how the southern seaside town has evolved over the years in a mirror of Blackpool’s growth.

Carl Carrington returned to the stage to highlight the many ways of protecting Blackpool’s heritage before a final panel session and a brief tour of The Winter Gardens’ many wonders.

The official book launch of Blackpool’s Seaside Heritage, by Allan Brodie and Matthew Whitfield, took place in The Tower.  The crowd of delegates from the symposium were joined by a number of newcomers and the launch was set within the glorious environs of The Eye, an achingly ornate part of the building. We were lavished with canapés and much free flowing wine, an extra glass of which went down quite quickly as part of the evening’s events was a trip to the top of The Tower, something I haven’t done scene being a young whippersnapper.  My adult sensibilities stepped in to give me a bag of nerves the size of a dozen Santa’s sacks.

Thankfully, I survived the trip to the soaring summit of what, in my mind as I ascended in the lift, is essentially a huge Meccano set and returned to ground level to mingle and have my book signed. It is a lovely book, more than just another photo-filled nostalgia fest.  It is a charting of the town’s growth and a testament to the heritage that surrounds us all as we wander about the town. That every building in Blackpool is part of a generally holistic town is celebrated in the book.  The awkward 1980s frontages of long gone nightclubs stand next to Art Deco that contrasts with modern design and make Blackpool unique.  All this is captured in the book and if you get the chance you should either buy or definitely look through a copy.

Snapshot was a great day of events. Blackpool’s one-word town motto, ‘Progress’ was really shown to be true.  Despite its ups and downs, the town has never stopped progressing and evolving and events like this are a great showcase for this ever-surprising place.

Images courtesy of Two Old Birds Photography.

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