How entrepreneurs can turn the tide for Britain’s seaside towns

Hear the words ‘seaside town’ and chances are that sunny beaches, strolls along the pier and freshly caught fish are the first things that come to mind – well, perhaps minus the ‘sunny’. But while this might be true of some places, in many seaside towns locals have far more to worry about than their daily swim. Indeed, as revealed by yesterday’s release of the latest official deprivation figures (which ranked seaside town Jaywick as Britain’s most deprived locale), they live in some of the UK’s most economically challenged areas.

For several years – since the publication of a 2007 Commons report that declared them ‘in need of focused, specific Government attention’ – policymakers, academics and other organisations have attempted to explain why the UK’s seaside towns have fallen behind the rest of the country both economically and socially.

Although many rural areas face similar challenges, it is seaside towns that have captured the imagination and opened up a discussion on economic development outside of Britain’s urban centres. Perhaps this is due to nostalgia for the illustrious past many seaside towns share, having once been at the heart of the Victorian-era holiday scene.

Today’s seaside towns are not quite so well-off, the arrival of low-cost air travel having eaten into the tourism that so many depend(ed) on. Over the decades, this loss of demand has hollowed out the towns’ economic and social capital, a decline manifested in common traits such as severe deprivation, low-wage seasonal work, poor infrastructure, and a deficit in skills and education compounded by the relentless brain drain of the youngest and brightest.

But while much has been said about both the problems facing seaside towns and the sources of those problems, solutions have been few and far between.

Today the Centre for Entrepreneurs launches its latest report, From ebb to flow : how entrepreneurs can turn the tide for Britain’s seaside towns – our attempt to change this state of affairs and challenge the narrative of negativity that has until now dominated the discussion of seaside towns.

In it we make a unique and timely contribution to the debate around their future of Britain’s seaside towns.

Entrepreneurship played a big part in building up seaside towns during their heyday. Just think of that impressive symbol of technical innovation and enterprising spirit, Blackpool Tower, co-founded by a former mayor of Blackpool and funded by selling £100,000 worth of shares to the general public. Or think of the development of Blackpool itself as a resort, where 10% of the British population once took their holidays – impossible without the restaurants, spas, guesthouses and shops that risk-loving entrepreneurs took upon themselves to create.

Just as entrepreneurs helped build seaside towns, we believe that it is the invention and drive of entrepreneurs that will revive them. Our report identifies and celebrates entrepreneurs that are leading the reinvention of five towns : Hastings, Bournemouth, Scarborough, Littlehampton and Portrush.

Thanks to the exciting ventures taking place in each of these towns, the pessimism and economic stagnation of past decades are beginning to make way.

Hastings is rebranding itself as the home of culture and sport with its piano competitions, galleries and art-deco skatepark (the latter a derelict swimming pool rescued by two entrepreneur brothers), while Portrush has transformed itself into Northern Ireland’s food Mecca thanks to the efforts of a committed local couple.

Bournemouth is a proven success story, having been named the fastest-growing digital hub in Britain by Tech Nation, while in Littlehampton one woman’s vision for her small concrete waterfront kiosk, coupled with a chance encounter with designer Thomas Heatherwick, has transformed the town into an architectural destination. And up north in Scarborough, we profile the man behind Dalby Offshore – one of Britain’s fastest growing companies – who is embracing the opportunities from the development of a large scale wind farm at Dogger Bank.

Based on our findings in these towns, we believe there are various things seaside towns can do to ensure that this wave of entrepreneurialism reaches their shores. Their shared deficiencies in connectivity, skills and infrastructure make it harder than it should be for prospective entrepreneurs to settle down and start businesses by the coast.

In order to unleash dormant entrepreneurial energies, we argue that seaside towns need to: develop the specialised identities that will anchor local businesses; tackle the deficiencies in education and skills that are holding back the labour force; improve the quality of local data available to entrepreneurs; invest in infrastructure both digital and physical; and push for greater devolution from the centre in order to respond more effectively to local conditions.

Our report goes into more detail on what these recommendations entail, but the main takeaway is that while entrepreneurs will be key to reviving seaside towns, they will not be able to go it alone.

A combined effort is needed – one that brings together entrepreneurs, national government, local authorities and residents in identifying issues and opportunities, developing solutions, and taking action.

We are confident that the vision presented in our report contains the ingredients that will ensure the future prosperity of our seaside towns, which we believe must remain central to the UK’s heritage and identity.