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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 August 2006, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Renaissance in Scarborough
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News, Scarborough

Scarborough in 1910

As part of a series of features studying the UK's seaside towns, the spotlight falls on Scarborough in North Yorkshire.

In the very place where the first British seaside spa resort was born at the end of the 17th Century, the Scarborough Spa Orchestra is into the swing of its lunchtime concert.

The familiar melody of "In Party Mood" is met by enthusiastic applause at the open-air Suncourt enclosure and between numbers the audience, entirely made up of pensioners, can hear the sound of the waves just yards behind the band.

The beach is reasonably busy, 300 years after some of the gentry first came to this part of Yorkshire to bathe in the water for medicinal purposes.

In those days they used bathing machines which were wheeled down to the water to obscure the sight of them in their swimsuits. But modesty is not the only thing that's changed since then.

BournemouthNewcastleRhylNew BrightonWhitstableWeston-Super-MareBournemouthScarboroughRothesay

In 2006 a warm summer has had people flocking to the beach, but that masks a diminishing number of visitors since the 1970s, which has put the town on the brink of a period of massive change.

Keith Norton, operations manager at the Spa, which also has a concert hall and theatre, said there had been a downward trend but he hoped a 3.5m refurbishment and a change in content would address that.

"There will be a change of style to the summer shows - the traditional, end-of-pier-type variety which has been successful for many years, mainly for a mature audience, has to change."

This new emphasis is reflected by the booking of Sir Willard White, who will sing to a full house in September.

Scarborough has many selling points. The bay, with the imposing Grand Hotel and the ruined castle overlooking it, has a natural beauty that still draws visitors, mostly daytrippers, in large numbers.

Its architectural riches were acknowledged this year when it was chosen to front a campaign by the Victorian Society to remind holidaymakers they do not always need to get on a plane and head abroad.

'No vision'

The cliffs are scaled by two funicular railways and there are several manicured gardens with wonderful views.

On the beach there is the traditional sight of donkey rides and slot-machine arcades, while the sound of bingo numbers being called and the smell of fish and chips are never far away.

South Bay
Famous resident: Sir Alan Ayckbourn
Interesting fact: More listed buildings than York

Enjoying the view from the top of the cliff is Barry Wilson, 58, who has lived in Scarborough for 20 years.

"There's no vision in what they're offering the tourists," he said. "Whitby has a variety of shops with character and high-quality goods like arts and crafts.

"Here it's just fish and chips, amusement arcades and a few pubs and restaurants.

"That doesn't endear itself to people who are not interested in slot machines. As more people's taste goes upmarket, it leaves Scarborough with very few options."

Between and after the wars the town rivalled Blackpool as the holiday destination of the North, but the competition of foreign air travel began to bite in the mid-70s.

South Bay
The warm summer has kept the beach busy

Smaller hotels and guesthouses were closed and sold off, with many of the rooms filled with vulnerable people and people on benefits. Two decades of little investment followed.

But a few years ago the community empowered itself to stimulate a revival, backed by millions of pounds from Scarborough council, the European Union and Yorkshire Forward, which is the regional development agency.

Driven by a working group made up of representatives of the town, the Urban Renaissance team was born and up to 100 people meet monthly to try to make their vision a reality.

120m project

As well as supervising the renovations at the Spa, it has plans for a 9m, 83-acre extension of the business park, a new 4.8m creative industries centre, new pontoons at the harbour and the modernisation of the Rotunda Museum.

Private finance is also playing a part in making this an exciting period in the town's history, with 120m being spent on converting a dilapidated site in North Bay into an upmarket area with 100 private apartments.

Scarborough Spa Orchestra at the Suncourt enclosure
The orchestra's concert has a beautiful setting
Nick Taylor, urban renaissance manager, said the vision was to move away from the Blackpool image to embrace the funkiness of Brighton and the culture of St Ives.

"Instead of a seaside town we want Scarborough to be a town by the sea," he said.

"A casual visitor might think the town's all tourism but there are a lot of accountants, solicitors and farming, although the fishing industry has more or less died."

The arcades and donkey rides had a market to serve, he said, but upmarket coffee shops were gradually replacing some of them and there was a drive to improve customer care throughout the town.

New developments must be sympathetic to the town's character, he said, and the image was already changing from rundown to desirable, with one survey putting Scarborough 12th in the UK for second-home ownership.

Tourists from Scunthorpe
Coach loads of tourists come for the day

"There's now a ripple effect from cities like Leeds. Scarborough used to be the playground of those places but we're now a place where people can come and work because of broadband," said Mr Taylor.

He said the hardest market to crack is the youth, who are noticeably light on numbers among the holidaymakers. Teenagers shopping in the town centre said they felt there was nothing for them in Scarborough, so they intended to move to cities like York and Lincoln.

Down on the beach, Louise Pratt, 40, who is on a six-day holiday from Bradford with her family, has noticed the town and beach are much cleaner than when she was young, and says there is no need to go abroad when the British weather is kind.

"Sunday was heaving but it's not like when I was a kid. Then I remember going into the sea and then thinking 'Where are my parents?'"

Scarborough will never be like it was in those days but maybe it's heading back in that direction.

Thank you for your comments.

My grandparents used to take me to Scarborough when I was a kid and I loved it, the outdoor adventure playgroung and Peesum Park and the waterpark, not to mention the donkey rides and attrations on the beach followed off with fantastic fish and chips. Recently I went back to Scarborough for the day after about 16 years and was sad too see that although the beach is still lovely and clean, the attractions could do with some improvement and there's more to Scarborogh than slot machines, the council should spend more investing on things to draw you not turn you away like slots and casinos.
Kerrie Johnstone, Galashiels, Scotland

I spent all my childhood holidays in Scarborough before the collapse of the coal industry lost the town one of its most enthusiatic audiences. It's a wonderfull place with aesthetic landscape perfection combined with end-of-the-pier vitality.

Whatever plans are made for its revival they should take a gentle hand with the town's history. More conversion and less demolition please. Thirties features like the sun bathing building by the Spa and the many charming shelters are vanishing fast. If Scarborough is to be the Brighton of the future it should embrace ,enjoy and celebrate its past not ruthlessly overwrite it.
Daru Rooke, Bingley, West Yorks

Originally from Scarborough I went through a period of only seeing the negative in the place, tacky slot machines, little to do for the young, too many chain-pubs, etc. However there is also walking on the South Bay first thing in the morning, or the N York moors 5mins away, or the Stephen Joesph theatre, surfing in the North Bay when its "big", or just walking about the place and remembering some great years growing up there.

Scarborough does need to change, it has amazing potential but also has a council that for years never saw further than the slot machines. One other quick point, put the park and ride outside the centre of town! its not rocket science.
Rob, Bournemouth

I grew up in Scarborough and I love it - lots of people think it's a tacky place and can't see beyond the arcade machines to how beautiful that area really is. It has so much to offer but Scarborough Council haven't done it any favours over the past 10 years - instead of regenerating the beautiful bits like the outdoor swimming pool and chalets, they've ploughed money into things like arcades and casinos which just add to its reputation of being a tacky place. Hopefully now more people will see the town for what it really is - lovely!
helen, London, UK

I think Scarborough is overlooked when it comes to being viewed as a destination, my parents live to the north west of the town just into the National Park and Scarborough is always a place that I love coming back to. The South Bay is spectacular with its mixture of kitsch, the harbour and the old town, all looked over by the castle whilst the North Bay sweeps into the distance with the edges of the North York Moors just visible. The countryside is just as beautiful, with hiking, riding and biking all easy attainable.
Nicholas Lumby, Salt Lake City, USA

I have vivid memories of holidays in Scarborough when I was young, and I spent many of my summer holidays working in Scarborough. I was lucky enough to live in York for a number of years, and spent many happy weekends in Scarborough, and have just been back for a few days this summer with my 10 year old daughter. She loves Scarborough, as do I and, although it has definitely seen better days, it is a place that is in my blood, and I will never tire of it.
Ian, Edinburgh, UK

Happy memories of June 1954,when we spent our Honeymoon at the Kirk Ella Guest House, South Road. Also recollections, in the late sixties, of being able to park our car on the front during the Winter months and walking along the beach with our children.
Lou & Bill Rice, Olney, Bucks.

As both me and my partner are from Scarborough I feel I can comment on how it appeals, or in many cases, doesn't appeal to the youth of today. We both grew up there and after moving away to find employment we have realised how little Scarborough has to offer younger people, as in those under the age of 50 in the 21st Century. If you're after any decent kind of employment in modern trades you have to relocate to the larger cities of York or Leeds to stand any kind of a chance. Unless you're a farmer, or want to work in a Supermarket there's very little Scarborough has to offer in terms of employment. Industry will struggle due to the fact it's in such a remote location and the best road into the town is the delapidated single lane A64. Shame really.
Chris Lanham, Wakefield, Wst Yorks

Scarborough needs really to wake up and start " thinking out of the box". It has significant potential. Its location is wonderful. The coastal location is to "kill for" with the North Yorks moors inland it provides a "great leisure mix". The upside impact of global warming will provide this region with considerable benefits. The south of the UK and the large metropolitan cities are/will be increasingly uncomfortable to live in. This will accelerate the "northern drift". We need to attract a much wider socio-economic mix to the local area. This will in turn drive market demands for a better mix /level of infrastructure etc ...If we are to really start making significant progress, then we need active government support. Investment in a 21st century road network [A64 dualling etc...].
Patrick Sinnott, Scarborough North Yorks UK

Just had a week in Scarborough with the wife and kids. We had a great time, the countryside is fantastic, loads to do, Scarborough is definitely moving upmarket with some great little restaurants (including a fantastic Mexican) and new smart deli's. They should take their lead from places like Helmsley and move up market even more. They should position themselves in the second holiday position for people who have had their week in the sun. Only complaint was, there is not much to do if it's raining, we ended up queuing up for an hour-and-a-half at the sea life centre (which was really good).
Chris Milburn, Tonbridge, Kent, England.

I have known and loved Scarborough for all of my 55 years . My grandparents lived there so I spent most of my holidays there . Now I am a grandparent myself and all our five boys love Scarborough . Though we live abroad we have the property still and I try to visit for a few days every six weeks or so . Last summer we were 11 plus a grandchild and a great time was had by all !
Andrew Barnby, Montfort , the Netherlands

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