The fall and rise of Bridlington
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 August 2018 | UPDATED: 20:09 15 August 2018
There's so much happening in a rejuvenated Bridlington including a European Beach Volleyball Festival, writes Tony Greenway
Not so long ago, if you’d asked the question ‘Shall we go to go Bridlington?’ you might have received a short, sharp, and not entirely positive reply. In the 1970s, when package holidays became affordably de rigueur, the glamour of Bridlington — like so many other seaside towns up and down the country — began to fade. It could have been forgiven for feeling unloved and ignored.
These days, maybe the question should be: ‘Why wouldn’t we go to Bridlington?’ It seems that lots of people are getting the message that this East Yorkshire coastal town has got its mojo working again: last year, lest we forget, it featured in Trivago’s top 10 ‘emerging’ UK holiday destinations.
‘The beauty of Bridlington is that it has a little something for everybody. If you like seaside shows there’s Bridlington Spa,’ insists Rebecca Folds. It has a working harbour where you can see the boats unloading. It has an historic Old Town. It has the best beaches for miles around. It has wonderful walks. And the people are friendly, open and welcoming. It’s such an inspiring and positive place to live.’
Rebecca, who runs Bridlington Contemporary Gallery on West Street (near the harbour) with her artist husband, Nigel, also likes the town’s growing reputation as an artistic hub. It has a strong association with art because for years it was the home of David Hockney; although he sold up in 2015 after the death by misadventure of his personal assistant. Although Hockney’s absence has undoubtedly been felt — he is one of the art world’s starriest star names, after all — there’s still a thriving, supportive arts community here.
‘When we opened our gallery about a year-and-a-half ago in an old Co-Op supermarket, we weren’t sure if Bridlington was ready for contemporary art,” says Rebecca. “But people took us to their hearts and when we lost that building after six months, there was a clamour for us to find a new venue. They didn’t want us to close. There are so many artists, writers and poets here. I think it’s partly to do with the light, the space and the big skies, which David Hockney has talked about. I’m not saying visitors only come to Bridlington for the art. But it is part of the offering — and increasingly so.’ That’s why Rebecca is pleased that an art map is now freely available from tourist information offices and the town’s galleries, detailing nine art locations in Bridlington.
Bridlington has also — improbably, you might think — become a hotspot for beach volleyball. This month it’s the sole host of the 2018 Confederation of European Volleyball Beach Volleyball Festival, which runs alongside the UK Pro Beach Volleyball Tour on August 11th and 12th at Bridlington South Cliff Beach. What’s more, Jake Sheaf will be playing.
OK, fair enough: I didn’t know who Jake Sheaf was, either. But I looked him up, and it’s all rather impressive. Sheaf, it turns out, is one half of England’s number one ranked beach volleyball team and the owner of four European medals and five national titles (although he missed out on a medal at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia by finishing in fourth place). This is a big deal for Brid because volleyball — like the British Open Darts Championship at The Spa in September — is a magnet for tourists. East Riding of Yorkshire Council says that ‘Bridlington South Beach, which is recognised as a national hub for Go Spike Beach Volleyball by Volleyball England, engaged 6000 people in 2017’.
Steve Eccles from East Riding of Yorkshire Council isn’t surprised that Brid is beginning to feature on visitors’ radars again. ‘We opened an exhibition at Sewerby Hall about this very subject recently,’ he says. ‘The theme was the rise, fall and rise again of Bridlington. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Bridlington was huge — and then it sank a bit, as did many seaside UK towns, when people went abroad instead of holidaying at home. We’ve invested hugely in Bridlington with, for example, East Riding Leisure Bridlington — the £25million leisure centre which opened two years ago — and the complete refurbishment of Sewerby Hall. We’ve run a concerted campaign to remind people about the amazing facilities, beaches and promenades we have here. Alongside that, we’re working to improve infrastructure for residents and visitors — which is less exciting, but just as important.’ As a sign that tourism is picking up, a new Premier Inn opened on the site of the former Beaconsfield car park earlier this year, the first purpose-built hotel in Brid for 80 years.
The council has also invested around £150,000 in two land trains, bringing the total fleet to four. These will run on the north promenade between East Riding Leisure Bridlington and Sewerby Hall and Gardens, linking Bridlington town centre with the summer car parks and on the south promenade, linking Bridlington Spa to the Park and Ride and South Cliff Holiday Park.
It’s not all good news for Brid. Last year we reported that ‘the long-talked about harbour improvements and marina facilities for Bridlington are tantalisingly close to fruition, with East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Bridlington Harbour Commissioners appointing professional services firm Arup to undertake project design and pre-construction work for the Yorkshire Harbour and Marina Project’. Hmm. We spoke too soon because the plans — which would have cost an estimated £115million to complete — were ditched in February.
‘There was a larger scheme of works that the council and Bridlington Harbour were looking at,’ says Mark Bateman from East Riding of Yorkshire Council. ‘But they weren’t financially viable in the current climate. Those were shelved and what we and the Harbour Commissioners did was start looking at the potential for an in-harbour development... and we’re not that much further along than that.’ Who knows? The harbour plans may bob to the surface again in 10, 20 or 30 years, says Mark. ‘But at this moment in time it’s not something we are looking to pursue.’
That’s disappointing, although Rebecca Folds believes there’s a laid back attitude to the harbour development. ‘This is a town that’s looking to the future,’ she says. ‘It’s a bit like: “If it happens, it happens”. But there’s so much else going on here — and that makes it an exciting place to be.’