Wayne Hemingway: man of the sea, entrepreneur of the resort

This is a case study featured in our seaside report. Click here for the full report page

Britain’s coastline is an enchanting ribbon of land that we neglect at our peril. Celebrated entrepreneur Wayne Hemingway explains that despite their unique social and economic challenges, seaside towns are also resilient and beautiful places, packed with character and allure.

In this age of data, it’s pleasing to learn that the length of Britain’s coastline defies precise definition. There are, literally, too many shifting sands, crumbling inlets, tidal ebbs and flows to settle on a final number. It’s somewhere upwards of 11,500 miles, but to fix on a specific figure, you’d have to agree on what counts for land and sea amid tens of thousands of caves, outcrops and jetties.

One thing’s for certain: the UK coast features some of our most magnificent and memorable landscapes, and it’s home to many of our most intriguing, complex, remote, buffeted, eccentric and occasionally troubled communities.

And the UK coastline is often not knitted into the mainstream economy, making its communities dangerously susceptible to fringe politics and social discontent.

Wayne Hemingway was born in the Lancashire seaside resort of Morecambe. He is a successful entrepreneur who built, and sold, his own fashion label, Red or Dead. Since then, he has become one of the UK’s best-known designers and commentators creating, among many projects, avant-garde beach ‘pods’ in Bournemouth. He lives on the West Sussex coast, near Chichester. He is a true man of the British seaside.

For Hemingway, Britain’s coastline is “our crown jewel”, an enchanting ribbon of land that we neglect at our peril.

Despite their social and economic challenges, Hemingway’s view is that seaside resorts can actually draw strength from their demographics, their unique mixture of older, more conservative pensioners; the displaced and disenfranchised; and the eccentric creatives who have always been drawn to the sea.

His home town of Morecambe is a small community, pleasantly isolated from nearby conurbations. While it’s hardly a thriving metropolis, there are flickers of optimism. A new £17m retail park is planned for an eyesore site in the town; there are mutterings of better road links to the nearby M6. And then there’s Morecambe’s natural environment, unspoilt, indeed carefully protected; and enclosed by a wealthy rural hinterland. “It could become another Abersoch,” says Hemingway, referring to the posh North Wales seaside resort where the north-west smart set go to chill.

Different forces are at play in Margate, Kent, which spectacularly re-entered the mainstream in the summer of 2015 with the reopening of the Dreamland amusement park. The original Dreamland closed in 2003 and with it, it seemed, went Margate’s fortunes. But thanks to a relentless public campaign against the site’s proposed redevelopment as residential flats – and indeed Hemingway’s own vision for its reincarnation – the town is on the brink of a new dawn.

The new Margate is a reimagination of the English resort. As the Guardian put it: “Once, Dreamland was at the cutting edge of fairground excitement. But now it has a whole other agenda: rather than competing with the high-tech thrills of Alton Towers and Thorpe Park, it offers a gentle, sweetly retro vision of seaside fun masterminded by designer Wayne Hemingway.”

Hemingway believes that the presence of cultural destinations in Margate, such as the Turner Gallery, improved transport links to London and relatively affordable house prices, are drawing a new ‘hipster’ community to the town. In a similar way, Hemingway’s Vintage by the Sea festival in Morecambe attracts 40,000-plus people to the Lancashire coast. (A notable consequence is that this younger generation also seems to reject the fringe politics that have seduced some seaside communities.) “It’s the start of the journey that Brighton went through in the 1970s,” says Hemingway.

Across the UK, tastes are changing, says Hemingway, and this is positive for seaside resorts. More and more people, for example, are taking up outdoor pursuits, and “you’re not going to go on a cycling holiday in Costa del Sol, are you?” He believes we’re becoming more cultured, too fidgety just to lie by the pool like the “Hawaiian Tropic generation”.

British people may no longer choose to go to Morecambe or Margate or Skegness or Weston-super-Mare for a two-week summer holiday, but they’ll visit for a short break if they know there are cultural attractions, nearby countryside and interesting places to visit.

Seaside resorts suffer from unique social and economic challenges, caused by remoteness, monochrome cultures and the disappearance of industry. But these are resilient and beautiful places, packed with character and allure. In many of them, something is stirring, entrepreneurial energy is being unleashed. And if all you need to operate a successful business these days is a broadband connection and lots of determination, then Britain’s resorts may just have a sunny future.