The bench needs to be over 613m
The coastal resort of Littlehampton hopes to put itself back on the tourist map by building the world's longest bench. But this title is hotly contested. Why?
Littlehampton in West Sussex has a dream. A big dream. To build a bench hundreds of metres long that runs from its promenade to its beach, setting a new world record in the process.
To make this dream come true, on Tuesday it has launched a campaign to raise the remaining funds needed to start construction in autumn. Will its bench be long enough? And why would anyone compete for the world's longest bench in the first place?
"Records are always a way to pull people together behind the project and make them work towards a common goal," says Marco Frigatti, vice president of records for Guinness World Records. "It can become a matter of pride."
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But competition for the record is stiff. Several countries claim to have a longest bench of one sort or another. Spain says it has longest park bench, a twisting, Gaudi-inspired piece of art in Barcelona.
Russia reportedly had the longest painted bench before it was broken into 100 separate structures to be spread throughout Moscow. And Geneva claims to have the longest wooden bench, a 120m structure built in 1767 out of 180 boards.
"Every country claims to have the longest bench. This is the problem," says Dawn Crawford, of the Arun District Council in Littlehampton. "It's a bit of a nightmare."
She says the organisers had thought the length to beat was 501m, a record set in Germany with a bench along the Keil canal. But that's actually about 100m too short. According to Guinness World Records, the longest bench is 613.13m, set on 27 August 2005 at a stadium in Szlachta, Poland.
But the new benchmark, so to speak, doesn't daunt the town - they'll simply shoot to build longer. "Certainly Littlehampton's ambition is to have the longest bench and, if 600m is the longest, we'll do everything we can to beat that," says Ms Crawford.
The idea for Littlehampton's not-so-little bench started two years ago in a classroom of level three students at Connaught Junior School, who were asked to become part of the town's overall regeneration plans.
The students collaborated with the organisers and designer to come up with an ice-cream colour theme and a plan for 9,000 identical little enamelled bars that will bounce and move around like a ribbon.
The project is part of an overall regeneration plan for Littlehampton, with the aim of, among other goals, bringing more visitors to the area.
And a record-breaking attraction could help them do that, says Dr Donna Chambers, a tourism lecturer at the University of Surrey. "The longest bench sounds interesting," she says. "It might be something that people would want to see."
But, she adds, a "longest," "largest" or "best" title alone usually isn't enough to draw tourists - a town also needs to have the infrastructure to support more activities. "If people come to see the bench, they might want to do something else while they're there."
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The actual record breaking, which Littlehampton hopes to do in the next few years, can also draw tourists, Mr Frigatti says.
"It helps the city to help create attention about its beauties. It's a moment of great publicity," he says. "It can, in the long term, bring more tourists."
Before Littlehampton can advertise the world's largest bench, though, the town needs to construct it. The design allows for adjustments in the length that will ultimately allow the project to adapt to funding - or record-breaking - needs.
Right now, a £400,000 grant from the Sea Change Programme and a private £100,000 donation are enough to fund a 483m bench. The hope is to raise the rest of the money needed for a record attempt from the public.
Among those lobbying for cash will be the pupils who first dreamed up the project, who are "over the moon" about helping to make a difference to the town, says head teacher Judy Grevett.
If all goes according to plan, the pupils - and about 1,000 of their friends - will be able to take their first seat in March 2010.