Shutters are closed and tourists leave as Morecambe prepares for a long empty winter

For any seaside town whose economy is tied to tourism, the winter months are a very different challenge than the summer.

This is especially true for Morecambe, a classic seaside resort that flourished in the Victorian era before experiencing a downturn as overseas vacations became cheaper and more accessible.

During the summer, pubs, arcades and seaside shops take advantage of the public’s love for sun, sea and sand. But when the weather gets colder, the kids go back to school and those busy days wear off, what is life like for those who stay in town?

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And what exactly can they do to make sure businesses stay afloat without an influx of visitors?

We went downtown to find answers to these questions.

As you would expect on a cool Monday morning in November, arriving at the Morecambe seafront is very different from summer. More and more businesses are closed and have their doors and windows closed, while the lack of crowds draws your attention to the surrounding buildings.

What is immediately noticeable is the need for regeneration work in a number of buildings. Many signs on storefronts have missing letters, many are in disrepair, and tall buildings such as the old Queens Hotel present an eyesore.

As you might expect, visitors are scarce compared to the sunnier days, although the beach continues to attract walkers and dog owners. The Eric Morecambe statue on Marine Road Central is also a constant hit, with visitors stopping frequently to take photos.

Like many in the North, the city has been hit hard by government budget cuts in recent years, focusing on essential services. Lancaster City Council last year made an offer to the government’s Future High Streets Fund for £ 25million in funding to renovate the town center and waterfront, but ultimately failed.

Had it been chosen, the money would have been used in part to return vacant areas and underutilized and abandoned properties to productive use, such as new offices, hotels and residential spaces. Improvements to pedestrian links were also raised, as was the possibility of creating more open public spaces to invite flexible uses, community events and leisure opportunities.

Morecambe seafront dog walkers

Other sources of funding are still being sought, while the main hope lies in the plan to create an Eden Project North in Morecambe Bay.

If approved, Eden Project North is expected to attract around one million visitors per year and directly employ over 400 people.

In the meantime, businesses operating in the city must continue to try to thrive without such drastic government intervention.

Charlie Edwards has been running the Boardwalk pub on Marine Road West since 2019 and says the winter months present a huge challenge.

Eric Morecambe statue regularly attracts photographers
Eric Morecambe statue regularly attracts photographers

He told LancsLive: “It’s getting better but we can really feel it. There is a definite change in the number of clients.

“Obviously there is less tourism but also less people want to go out when the weather changes and this is particularly the case in Morecambe because of the problems with taxis that we encounter.

“People don’t want to go out because they can’t take a cab after midnight.”

Charlie, who also sits on Lancashire County Council, says the pub is trying various tactics to get people through the doors outside of the summer, including hosting sports teams, quizzes and live performances on three nights per week.

The Christmas season will also give a boost to businesses that organize parties.

He added: “Anyone reading this hasn’t booked a Christmas party at work, you don’t realize what a huge difference it makes for pubs, restaurants and businesses this time of year.”

As the Eden Project North dominates the attention, Charlie is hoping that another, smaller-scale idea can help restore the seasonal balance.

A rival to the iconic lights of Blackpool, the Morecambe Illuminations were a key attraction at the resort from 1919 to 1996, when they were canceled.

But a new and reimagined version of the light show could return to the city with a new and improved display inspired by the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and the Millennium Dome in London.

The old Queen's Hotel barricaded
The old Queen’s Hotel is an eyesore to residents and visitors

The illuminations were a famous attraction in the Northwest for decades, with Roger Moore and Noel Edmonds turning on the lights that ran along the boardwalk to Happy Mount Park. But the display, which drew more than 100,000 visitors at its peak, was canceled in 1996 after Happy Mount Park’s power supply, which had not been updated since 1928, collapsed, condemning the illuminations to cancellation.

Charlie said: “We are hopeful that we will present the 2022 stimulus packages for Morecambe Illuminations and Morecambe Sparkle imminently, which will make a huge difference to businesses in 2022.”

The pub owner told LancsLive he has noticed an increase in the number of people on weekends this winter, apparently due to people not yet feeling confident about booking holidays abroad.

However, the lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to pose a problem for businesses that depend on gatherings of people in public places.

Eric Morecambe's statue overlooking Marive Road Central
Eric Morecambe’s statue overlooking Marive Road Central

He said: “We are seeing the ripple effects of Covid. It really affects our business and we find it hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

When asked if it was viable to keep the pub open during the winter, Charlie replied that November and January in particular were financial bruises.

He said: “It would be beneficial for me to just shut down the pub but that’s not how the world works because I have to take care of the staff and our regulars because it’s important to them and to have a place to go as a social meeting place.

“There are a lot of businesses that are only there in the summer and then disappear. It’s that old-school Morecambe attitude that “we’re only here for tourists”.

“One of the reasons we’re struggling is companies that come in for profitable months and, frankly, I think that’s shameful.”

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