By Alexis Akwagyiram
As part of a series of features studying the UK's seaside towns, the spotlight falls on Rhyl, in Denbighshire.
John Newsome has lived in Rhyl his entire life.
The souvenir shop owner's family moved to the area 80 years ago and have run the business for the last 50, alongside an ice cream stall.
"The 60s and 70s was the heyday. Nobody went abroad because it was too expensive - people came in their hundreds every day," said the 55-year-old, as he gazed at his collection of classic postcards.
But 21st Century Rhyl is a very different place. In recent years the area has attracted negative publicity about drug use and petty crime.
In 2002 one of its wards was picked by Home Office ministers, alongside four inner city areas in England, as a "priority area" requiring special measures to address anti-social behaviour and crime.
With the summer sunshine gone, the overcast August weather seems to suit the slightly frayed, dejected appearance of the Welsh town.
In the peak summer holiday season, few people can be seen walking along the promenade where the traditional parade of fish and chip shops, rock stalls and amusement arcades are punctuated by derelict buildings.
"Now people come for the day, rather than a week like they used to. They travel from nearby areas, like Stoke, Manchester and Liverpool," said John, as his thoughts returned to the present day.
"We used to open from 9am to 9pm because people were staying here. But now we don't see people until 11 and they've all gone home by 6."
But John was quick to point out that all is not lost. He said a police crackdown about two years ago had been effective in ridding the area of drug users - particularly heroin addicts.
Famous resident: Carol Vorderman was educated in Rhyl
Interesting fact: Rhyl FC won the 2003-04 Welsh Premiership
And he cited the multi-million pound promenade development as the biggest reason for optimism.
The Drift Park will boast five themed gardens, including an open air theatre, playground and water play area.
The £3.8m project will also involve the demolition or renovation of the derelict buildings that betray the town's waning fortunes.
"Rhyl has a good future. The development will bring people back and will turn it into a seaside resort of the future," said the shop owner.
John Newsome a new regeneration project will revitalise Rhyl
But not everyone shares his upbeat assessment.
Harold Robinson, 64, the director of local fairground Rhyl Amusements, said his takings were down by at least 50% compared to 10 years ago.
As he watched his workers idly chatting to fill the time once taken up by visiting hordes, his mood was bleak.
He suggested that efforts by Denbighshire County Council to rejuvenate the area could be "too little, too late", arguing that money should have been spent on projects 10 years ago when the number of visitors began to dwindle.
"We're never going to get the visitors back in the same numbers as before. People's habits have changed - it's down to cheap flights," he said.
"In the next few years Rhyl will look better. But I don't know if we'll get any more visitors because of it."
Work began on the seven-acre Drift Park last November and the project, which received European funding as well as money from Denbighshire County Council and the Welsh Development Agency, is due to be completed in September.
A Denbighshire County Council spokesman said the development would "restore the attractiveness of this important tourist destination and, together with the revamping of the Foryd Harbour, play its full role in the regeneration of Rhyl".
And the council is not alone in thinking that Rhyl is not a lost cause.
Carol Dobell, 42, is a relative newcomer to the area and believes the town has been "slowly improving" since she took over the Westminster Hotel four-and-a half years ago.
Carol Dobell has seen a reduction in crime since moving to Rhyl
"When we first came there was a drugs problem in the heart of the tourist area. It meant there were problems with petty crime, such as shoplifting and car theft. We were broken into seven times in the first 18 months, but it hasn't happened in the last 18 months," she said.
"We had a steady increase in business in the first two years, then a huge increase for the next two years and now we have plateaued."
She says coach parties of elderly people who have fond memories of the area continue to be a source of constant visitors, while the Drift Park will cater for children.
The hotelier also points out that large retailers such as Wilkinson and Peacocks are opening stores in the town centre, bringing new job opportunities, as will the new promenade development.
"Things can be turned around. Brighton used to have a terrible reputation and people didn't want to visit it anymore. But money got pumped into the area and now it looks great.
"I can see there being an improvement on a slightly smaller scale here."
Thank you for your comments.
My family (from Liverpool) spent so many holidays in North Wales that I almost think of myself as a Welshwoman!! We stayed in Talacre, Llandudno, Prestatyn, Towyn, Colwyn Bay and Rhyl. I had many happy memories of Rhyl and visited it again in 2001. Must admit it wasn't the Rhyl I remembered but I still enjoyed myself and will be returning in 2008. During WWII we still managed a holiday or two and I especially remember staying in a bungalow on a farm in Towyn and hearing the planes flying over to bomb Liverpool. Luckily we still had a home to go back to. We used to walk from Towyn to Rhyl to the fairground - lots of fun and plenty of fish and chips. I hope things will get better and more tourists will visit Rhyl instead of heading abroad.
Beryl, Savannah, USA
In the '50's, 'when I was a young boy', my parents took me to Rhyl on holiday and on day trips so often that it was almost our second home. It had everything a family could want, and I can still see (and smell) the miniature steam train as you went into the entrance of the wonderful Marine Lake fairground. Over the years I've been back from time to time with my own family, and it's a great shame to see how it's declined. Marine Lake fairground has long gone, the miniature railway soldiers on valiantly, but is 'out on a limb', and some of the former hotels on the seafront look like something from Beirut. I now see that there is talk of closing the last fair completely. I understand that there used to be a very notorious crime and drugs problem, but that this is now being tackled. Quite frankly, on our last visit, earlier this year, we didn't see much to inspire optimism, and we didn't stay very long. I hope Rhyl turns the corner, but I'm afraid I won't be holding my breath.
John Stephens, Stourbridge, West Midlands, UK
I visited in Rhyl when I was a child and have great memories so when my son reached the same age I decided to go back with him. I stayed at the Westminster Hotel with Carol and her staff and had a great time. The sun was shining and we enjoyed a few days on the beach. We also used Rhyl as a base for travelling around Wales. We were pleasantly surprised by the great road network which helped us visit Portmerion and the train station I am not going to try and spell!! All in all we had a great time in Rhyl and I was glad to see it again even though it does look a bit tired and in need of a face lift.
Gayle McCallum, Glasgow
We stayed in Prestatyn 4 years back and went into nearby Rhyl. We swore we would never go back. Run down, dirty, lacking in facilities. Totally unlike most parts of North Wales (which I find to be very pleasant). Perhaps demolition would be preferable to renovation?
Simon, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
I was in Rhyl last week but was rather disappointed. The work on the promenade means there is a 200m stretch of wall with no access to the beach! Surely this is an asset going to waste! I wont be rushing back to a place that I have fond memories of as a child in the '80s.
Stephen Green, Birmingham
I took my family went to Rhyl yesterday - for the first time since I was four - and we had a wonderful time - who cares about the shops when you can get very good fish and chips and play on the huge beach all day! It's the seaside, you know, not Regent Street.
John, Stoke, UK
My grandparents lived in Rhyl and from the 1930s I spent many happy months each year enjoying the Marine Lake, the Pavilion (where my Granddad worked), the promenade, the beaches, the open air theatre, skating rink etc - endless days and pleasure.
On a visit to the UK three years ago we revisited Rhyl - I couldn't wait to get out of the place. The authorities should be ashamed of themselves. These things don't just happen by themselves. Mind you I have to say that Rhyl was by no means an isolated example of deterioration in seaside towns around the country. Does no one care any more ?
Arthur Roberts, Capel. Western Australia
I have been to Rhyl a few times, mostly when I was growing up. I find it nothing more than Blackpool's Welsh cousin. In the Centre it's quite run down and smells. However some of the camp/caravan sites on the outskirts are really nice, with the beach to walk along, it's a good place to blow away the cobwebs.
However, the last time I was there I couldn't help but feel I was on some sort of run down council estate with the masses of chavs and scallys about. I saw lots of boy racers in their cars trying to show off to the 20-something girls in tracksuits. - NICE!
Russell Jacques, Wirral, England
I was born in Prestatyn (next town) and Rhyl was always considered "rougher" but as teenagers in the 70s we loved it for its night life and seaside amusements, however on a recent return I didn't recognise the place. All the buildings on the seafront have been covered with some awful coloured cladding or pebbledash and most of the shops were empty, it literally looked like a ghost town.
Karen Miles, Ripley, Surrey UK
We took our two grandchildren for a day out in Rhyl three weeks ago. I was shocked at how much it had deteriorated. We stayed about two hours. Some day out!!!
Sue, Crewe, England
Went to Rhyl once as a kid in the early seventies. It stank of fish and chips, there were loads of jelly fish in the sea, it was packed, the shops were awful and our family resolved to never go back there again.
If you don't go with the times and improve you end up losing. For all the holidaymakers Rhyl has lost it would seem that they have taken folk for granted and are now paying the cost.
Dave, Salisbury, England
My Granddad used to take me to Rhyl and Prestatyn every summer when I was a kid in the mid 80's. To me it was the best place in the world. A huge beach, a pound a on the go karts and plenty of greasy spoon cafes. The Costa Del Sol may as well have not existed. What more could a boy want.
Gareth , Scotland
I was born in Colwyn Bay near Rhyl. I have many fond memories of most of the sea side towns of north Wales and I still visit friends and family in the area on occasion. I believe that the issue of drugs is sadly rife for most of the sea side towns now along the coast. I am glad to hear that finally money is being invested in to the area, as this is the only way these towns can pull themselves out of the gutter and once again enjoy the tourist market that these towns richly deserve to have a share of, as the north Wales coast has so much to offer. However more larger retail giants need to get into these towns as well to ensure that all tastes are catered for and to help the prosperity and growth of these towns
Elwyn Evans, Watford
As a local I have seen a dramatic change even within 10 years in Rhyl. Rhyl has changed for the worse and public image and a failed regeneration of the town has certainly not helped. It is tackling it's drug problem and has a real chance to be a highly popular resort town once more. Rhyl also has a thriving, loyal community of people who are determined to not let Rhyl go to complete rack and ruin. Please don't write Rhyl off - it still has great potential.
Rebecca, Near Rhyl, Wales
My Grandparents have lived in Rhyl since I was 12 and I'm now 40. I remember the excitement when I was younger of going there to visit and have fond memories of the fair and attractions and bustling crowds on the seafront. Now however its a very different story, I've seen Rhyl slowly deteriorate over the years, I go to visit my Grandparents and not to go to Rhyl my daughter who is 13 has no excitement at going as its so run down and there is obviously still a drugs problem in the area. Its a shame that so much money has been injected into the promenade and now Drift Park but still I personally feel that the crowds that once swarmed there will never come back.
Sarah, High Wycombe, Bucks
I love Rhyl no matter what state it's in, we recently spent a week on a nearby caravan site & my son really loved it, I must admit when i was a youngster you could not move on the sea front for visitors where as now it was pretty much empty .I would like to see the front hotels/B&B's done up as from looking at them they looked disgraceful to the point where my son said they looked spooky.
LONG LIVE RHYL
Ian, Stoke, England
I grew up in and around Rhyl, and witnessed its gradual decline, to such an extent that, when I was old enough I moved away to find work and a better quality of life. In my summer holidays, I used to hire out deck chairs on the prom, and the general feeling amongst holidaymakers was one of sadness at what the once thriving seaside town had become. I really hope the council can clean up the place and make it a viable tourist destination again, but I fear it may be too late.
Matt, Formerly of Rhyl, now Chippenham, Wilts, UK
We were there last week, what a dump and a disgrace to north Wales and the beautiful countryside that surrounds it!
Kevin Palmer, Sheffield, South Yorkshire
in Rhyl last week it really needs an update. some nice big Victorian houses along the sea front but some are boarded up and old and run down what a shame.
For me Rhyl is still in the 1950s when it was a "proper" resort. Schooled in the town and started my apprenticeship in the printing trade, I loved it, but a visit two years ago confirmed it was no longer the 50s town that I remembered. I will likely never come back again.
John, British Columbia, Canada