In Blackpool: On The Left Coast

Blackpool - 38It doesn’t look like that early on this March afternoon as I arrive in Blackpool.

It's raining from a grey sky on a grey sea.

It’s raining from a grey sky on a grey sea.

In a decidedly out of season place.

In a decidedly out of season place.

But it’s still so very Blackpool though. Even on a damp Tuesday afternoon. Full of the memories of coming here all my life. Early days on the X61 Ribble Bus, before the 1965 blue Cortina arrived to bring us all here in style. Later still all of us from the Corpy Housing Department coming to ‘see the lights’ on a fleet of Corpy buses. Messing about in the Fun House then getting ourselves tucked into a very large pub and taking no notice of the illuminations at all. Golden days!

Even from the window of my hotel room, there's no mistaking where I am.

Even from the window of my hotel room, there’s no mistaking where I am.

Deliberately early for what I’m here to do I go for a walk about.

My friendly customers have put me up here. The grand and quintessentially Blackpool 'Imperial'

My friendly customers have put me up here. The grand and quintessentially Blackpool ‘Imperial’

The sun's poking through now making everywhere look much better.

The sun’s poking through now making everywhere look much better.

And all a bit charabancs and George Formby.

And all a bit charabancs and George Formby.

In my hotel I’ve noticed that they hold George Formby conventions four times a year! Not so much as a ukulele in sight today though.

Here it is then.

Here it is then.

The centre-piece.

The centre-piece.

Memories of seeing Reginald Dixon in the Tower Ballroom.

Memories of seeing Reginald Dixon in the Tower Ballroom.

Then this vast and new celebration of Blackpool performers...

Then this vast and new celebration of Blackpool performers…

And their jokes.

And their jokes.

This was always Woolies. As big an attraction as the Tower and the beach to me.

This was always Woolies. As big an attraction as the Tower and the beach to me.

Now it’s a bar called The Albert and The Lion. As good an excuse as this blog will ever get to bring you this monologue of flat out eccentric genius from Stanley Holloway:

And joy of joys...

And joy of joys…

There are still the trams.

There are still the trams.

These old ones, much like we had in Liverpool until one bleak day in 1957 now just do ‘Heritage’ runs, but beyond wonderful to see them.

Think these recent days precinct buildings could have made a better job of the end feature there.

Think these recent days precinct buildings could have made a better job of the end feature there.

Though too many of the end features look a bit like this.

Though too many of the end features look a bit like this.

Blackpool has clearly spent a lot on grandiosing the front, even since my last visit nearly nine years ago now. But just a few streets back both the struggles and the pluck of the place are clear to see.

Every 4th member of your party stays for £1!

Every 4th member of your party stays for £1!

It's everywhere.

The Tower is everywhere.

So are these, the apparently less than beloved owners of Blackpool FC.

So are these, the apparently less than beloved owners of Blackpool FC.

This street of guest houses is having its own illuminations.

This street of guest houses is having its own illuminations.

The place does seem too full of guest houses though.

The place does seem too full of guest houses though.

But a surprising number of them have the 'No Vacancies' signs up. Which is good going for early March.

But a surprising number of them have the ‘No Vacancies’ signs up. Which is good going for early March.

Sadly this dressmaker's doesn't seem to have worked out.

Sadly this dressmaker’s doesn’t seem to have worked out.

Anyway, let's talk about art.

Anyway, let’s talk about art.

I'm here to see Left Coast.

I’m here to see Left Coast.

An arts organisation in here.

An arts organisation in here.

I met them in Stoke last summer at Arts Council England’s ‘Creative People and Places’ conference. Read about what they do here.

Today they’ve taken me on as part of their Golden Section series of talks:

“Golden Section is LeftCoast’s monthly creative conversation where we invite a visiting artist, creative or generally extraordinary person to town to give you the chance to hear about how they got where they are today.”

Our venue for this is this gorgeous Carnegie Library.

Our venue for this is this gorgeous Carnegie Library.

Specifically the Grundy Art Gallery here.

Specifically the Grundy Art Gallery here.

Set up by Edwardian philanthropist brothers John...

Set up by Edwardian philanthropist brothers John…

And Cuthbert Grundy.

And Cuthbert Grundy.

Time for a look around while the technicals get set up.

Time for a look around while the technicals get set up.

And people start to arrive.

And people start to arrive.

Particularly noticing these.

Particularly noticing these.

The circular radiators.

The circular radiators.

When everyone's arrived, we start.

When everyone’s arrived, we start.

Left Coast have specifically asked me to talk about my life and experiences and how I got into what I do now. So there’s lots of talk of early days and Cathy Come Home, and council housing and housing associations, then me and Sarah taking our risk with ‘a sense of place’ and doing only what we loved for a living. All the social enterprises and films and mentoring leading to now and Homebaked and Granby. The unexpected detour of the Turner Prize and my abidingly ferocious passion for the social housing and ‘you can’t do anything with your life without a secure place to call home’ that first got me going all those years ago. Or words to that effect.

Thanks for the interest and all the questions and kindness you people of Blackpool. You have so much going for you collectively. And it was great to hear so much about your ideas and successes.

Then out in the streets again the Tower is showing off.

Then out in the streets again the Tower is simply showing off.

As pure and simple a sense of place as you could wish to see.

As pure and simple a sense of place as you could wish to see.

Then it's now. Back to the hotel.

Then back to the hotel.

Next morning I set off to visit ‘Jobs, Friends & Houses’ who’d been at the evening’s discussion and had invited me to come and visit.

Not walking along the sea front today, already finding my way around some other interesting roads.

Not walking along the sea front today, already finding my way around some other interesting roads.

Where style is alive and well.

Where style is alive and well.

And several huge theatres have found their own ways forward in a changed world.

And several huge theatres have found their own ways forward in a changed world.

Soon arriving at Jobs, Friends and Houses on Church Street.

Soon arriving at Jobs, Friends & Houses on Church Street.

The organisation’s name pretty eloquently explains what its about:

Jobs, Friends & Houses supports, empowers and employs people in recovery from addiction, offending, homelessness, mental health problems, long-term unemployment or family breakdown.”

So yes, what do you need if you’re coming through all those kinds of things? Well ‘Jobs’ Friends & Houses’ would be a good start.

I sit down and talk through the short history of the organisation with Katie Upton, their Communications Manager and Steve Hodgkins, their CEO. Katie’s background is in journalism and Steve is a Police Sergeant in the Lancashire Constabulary, who’s on full-time secondment to here.

Steve Hodgkins.

Steve Hodgkins.

Jobs, Friends & Houses then, take over empty houses in Blackpool, work on them together with people in recovery from the addictions and issues listed above – who then live in the houses  and continue to work on other houses and within the organisation as they work on options for futures free from their addictions. A brilliantly simple idea that clearly contains huge and individually based complications as they do what they’re for.

The three of us find so many parallels in our Blackpool and Liverpool lives that I’m sure we’ll be meeting again and influencing each other’s work.

Already full of ideas and inspiration Katie then takes me around Blackpool for some more. We go to houses they’re working on, talk to the people living there and the people working on their next houses. And it’s so interesting it’s going to have to have it’s own blog post on here one day.

Plus it’s getting a blog of its own soon anyway, and we meet an old friend of me and my partner Sarah who’s working on it with them.

Len Grant, writer, photographer, artist.

Len Grant, writer, photographer, artist.

Len it was who said to Sarah twenty years ago ‘I think you’re a self-employed type?’ And helped us change our lives.

On site: Steve, Katy and Phil.

On site: Steve, Katy and Phil.

A brilliant organisation and a great two days in Blackpool. I’ll be back!

6 thoughts on “In Blackpool: On The Left Coast

  1. memoirsofahusk

    I was in Blackpool in autumn for the NW regional Labour conference in your hotel – so much as changed for the better, so much has not changed for the better since the days when we used to visit a family friend every now and then. . I always used to look forward to swimming in the Derby Baths … long gone. Look forward to your next piece.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Still in the Imperial at the moment. About to leave for a visit to Jobs, Friends & Houses. More about them on this same post later.

      I think Blackpool has a determined feel about it and I’ve loved this short visit.

      Reply
  2. robertday154

    Ah, Blackpool! I visited once as a child in the mid-sixties, and then never again until I started going to union conferences (the story of the Blackpool North Catholic Club Quiz Nights may have to wait for later). Then we started going every February for Showzam!, the circus, fairground and New Variety festival, run by Professor Vanessa Toulmin of Sheffield University, where she curates an historical collection on the history of British fairs and circuses. (She is from a travelling fair background, and is known as ‘Professor Vanessa’ in the community; she has to keep telling people “That’s not a stage name – I really am a professor!”). Showzam is, of course, a cunning ruse to get people to visit Blackpool in the decidedly ‘off’ season, but it can be quite interesting then, with tours of Blackpool’s industrial archaeology – that is, the archaeology of the entertainment industry, with the Winter Gardens, the Opera House, the Pleasure Beach, the piers and the Tower on offer. All fascinating stuff, and I’ve pointed my camera at a lot of it over the years. And yes, I’ve even stayed at the Imperial (not on TU business, I hasten to add).

    Some of my pictures of Showzam! in 2009:

    P2154834
    P2144733
    Reply

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s