Monday, 25 October 2010

Ever Forward

On 28 July 2008 the historic pavilion of the Grand Pier at Weston-super-Mare was destroyed in a spectacular fire that made headlines around the world.

The following day on Facebook I wrote:

“If……. they do a good restoration job, it could be in the long run a good thing, raising the profile of [Weston] and allowing it to be better than ever.”

Well, skip forward just over 800 days…….and here we are. After a remarkably quick rebuild (and despite some delays), on Saturday 23 October 2010 Louise and I were lucky enough to be present for the re-opening of the new Grand Pier.

With a new pavilion designed by the Bristol architectural practice of Angus Meek, the Pier is back bigger and arguably better than ever. Yes, I miss the design of the original and part of me wishes that it had been rebuilt as a replica, a la St Kilda, Victoria. However, the new building is considerably larger (same footprint but taller), so there’s more inside, not just rides but bars, restaurants, conference facilities, even marriage rooms! This all makes the Pier a bigger attraction. And – significantly – that makes Weston itself a bigger attraction.

The English seaside has been through some difficult years but is not-so-slowly reinventing itself these days. Even before the era of recession, staycations (ugh!) and carbon footprints, people were re-discovering their “home” seaside. Weston in some ways was poorly-placed to attract “specialist” tourism (as the Isle of Man does with transport and motorcycle racing, Padstow with gastronomy or Southwold with simplicity and nostalgia). But Weston does have some significant things going for it.

  • It has a splendid beach with firm sands. The famously receding tide frankly means there’s lots of space for everyone! And it’s a lot nicer than Bondi, believe me.
  • It’s not that far away from major centres of population (day trips from Bristol, the West Midlands and South Wales are easy).
  • Lying in the shadow of wooded Worlebury Hill, with sublime stone terraces tumbling down towards the bay Weston has a truly magnificent setting. Its only real rival in that department is Torquay (and that’s spoiled a little by too many post-war apartment blocks nowadays).
  • And the Grand Pier rebuild is just one of a series of improvements. The need for flood defences (that sea does come in!) has been seized to create a much improved new Promenade which is almost finished. The traffic-choked junction opposite the Grand Pier itself is also being transformed, into a new “Pier Square” which will improve the setting no end.

There is a “buzz” in the town at the moment caused by the amount of inward investment.

Yes, there are some “bits” to deal with. The buildings of the central sea front aren’t yet a credit to the town. The Northern end of the Promenade needs some tidying up, especially now that the Royal Pier Hotel is no more and that could go hand-in-hand with the restoration of the “other” Pier, at Birnbeck. And don’t get me started on the Tropicana (the former Open Air Swimming Pool whose fate is easily Weston’s biggest shame).

But the town is on the up. The motto on its coat of arms (borrowed from Birmingham!) is “Ever Forward”. Seldom has it been more appropriate.

1 comment:

  1. One other thing Weston has over Torquay is that it doesn't have Basil Fawlty :-)