Entrepreneurs the key to unlocking prosperity in seaside towns

  • New report highlights how entrepreneurs can help revive seaside towns fallen into decline;
  • Seaside towns must develop unique identities that create entrepreneurial clusters and boost the town’s image;
  • Among other recommendations, calls on government to launch a “Seaside Challenge” to tackle deficiencies in seaside schools;
  • Calls on local government to match broadband infrastructure roll-out with training programmes to increase uptake;
  • Features profiles of visionary entrepreneurs turning around five seaside towns across the UK.

If they are to attract entrepreneurs and revive their fortunes, seaside towns need to develop a unique identity that, literally, puts them on the map. This is a key finding from a new report by the Centre for Entrepreneurs think tank.

The report – ‘From ebb to flow: How entrepreneurs can turn the tide for Britain’s seaside towns’ – states that seaside towns share many common challenges including physical isolation, education deficiencies, deprivation and low-wage, low-skilled seasonal work. Yet the Centre for Entrepreneurs has identified a pioneering generation of entrepreneurs, investors, cultural institutions and local politicians who are finding fresh relevance for some of Britain’s biggest – and smallest – seaside towns.

While profiling five very different seaside towns in the UK, the think tank also makes a series of widely-applicable recommendations that can boost entrepreneurship in seaside towns. Crucially, local leaders must forge a unique identity for their town. The report finds that a unique proposition – perhaps food, culture or sport – will be key in attracting clusters of entrepreneurs as well as visitors.

To tackle the education deficiencies found in many seaside schools, the report calls upon government to launch a “Seaside Challenge” – modelled on the 2003 Labour government’s “London Challenge” that successfully turned around London’s poor performing schools. Additionally, the report endorses the role of Teach First and encourages the education charity to work with government to place talented teachers into the most deprived seaside schools.

And the Centre calls on local authorities to match investment in broadband infrastructure with training and awareness campaigns to ensure uptake. Councils are further encouraged to maintain publicly accessible asset registries to help entrepreneurs identify development opportunities.

Visionary entrepreneurs
The report examines how visionary entrepreneurs are reviving fortunes in Bournemouth, Littlehampton, Hastings, Scarborough and Portrush. In-depth profiles explore how two brothers are turning a derelict art-deco swimming pool into a vast subterranean skate park; how a genteel West Sussex town has been transformed into an architectural destination; how creative digital entrepreneurs are using the lure of the seaside to entice talent and clients away from competing London agencies; and how one of the fastest growing businesses in the North is providing year-round, high-skill, high-wage jobs.

“Just as entrepreneurs built seaside towns, we believe that it is the invention and drive of entrepreneurs that can revive them” says Luke Johnson, chairman of the Centre. “Ultimately it is down to each of Britain’s seaside towns – and the collaboration of entrepreneurs, local politicians and residents – to formulate the unique strategy, based on the town’s identity, that will revive fortunes”.

Key Recommendations

Identity: Local authorities, businesses and tourist/marketing agencies should join together in forging unique identities for their towns. In an era where experiences and authenticity matter most, a unique proposition (whether food, culture or literary sophistication) will be key in attracting educated, high-skilled entrepreneurs in search of something different.

The ‘Challenge’ model: The government should consider launching a new ‘Challenge’ in deprived rural and coastal regions outside of England’s cities, given their success in boosting educational outcomes in London, Manchester and the Black Country. For seaside towns, call it the ‘Seaside Challenge’.

Charities: The government should support and encourage charities – such as Teach First and the Education Endowment Foundation – that are working to improve to educational standards in seaside towns, and ensure that the lessons learned inform future policies.

Big data: Programmes that rigorously map out national and local economic trends and opportunities (such as the government-backed ‘Tech Nation’) should be implemented in a range of industries and regions, so that entrepreneurs can identify places to invest. These could be public, private or nonprofit initiatives.

Asset inventories: There is a clear need for seaside towns to have publicly accessible asset inventories. In many towns finding out what exists and who owns it is far too difficult – a significant barrier for many prospective entrepreneurs. Local authorities should lead on this, given the assets they own as well as their ability to enable and coordinate data collection.

Devolution: Seaside towns, and the broader regions in which they are located, should be granted greater decision-making autonomy. These towns have unique characteristics and socio-economic challenges for which probably they alone know the appropriate answers. Local elected mayors should be offered as a clear possibility.

Physical infrastructure: Local and national authorities should continue and upscale their investments in physical infrastructure that will support entrepreneurship on the coast. The Coastal Communities Fund is a key component of this process. Local and national authorities should work together to improve transport links – the planned high-speed rail improvements for Hastings and Margate being positive examples. Local authorities should also invest in local public transport to better connect businesses, employees, tourists and consumers.

Digital infrastructure: Investment in improvements that will support the growing digital sector are paramount, especially in the area of high-speed broadband. Authorities must also recognise that it is not just the cost and speed of the connection that is important, but the skills and capabilities of individuals and businesses. There must be a relentless focus on getting more businesses online, and on digital skills training.