The gritty and often maligned seaside town of Morecambe stands on the brink of a new era as plans to transform it through ‘The Eden Project North’ are forging ahead.
To me, Morecambe is a fascinating subject to photograph due to its incongruous mix of stunning Lake District views, vast beaches, grand yet decaying architecture, dilapidated houses of multiple occupation, boarded up shops and salt-of-the-earth people – known locally as ‘sand grown ‘uns’.
This is no picture-perfect postcard town but it has a tainted beauty and rugged appeal that draw me back again and again. As someone who has worked in Morecambe, lives nearby and spends a lot of time there, I have a huge fondness for the town and have tried to capture images of the place as I see it.
A friendly no frills town, Morecambe has had many incarnations over the years with outside developers and dreamy entrepreneurs attempting to impose trendy and often outlandish visions onto the place like ill-fitting shoes. Originally a fishing village and then a resort for well-heeled Edwardians and Victorians, the town enjoyed its heydays in the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s when tourists flocked from northern mill towns and further afield to pack the hotels, B&Bs, beaches, pubs, theatres, cinemas, music venues and dancehalls.
Sadly, as package holidays grew in popularity, Morecambe began to struggle as a resort and its decline was hastened in the ‘80s by local authorities using the former B&Bs and hotels as houses of multiple occupation for the most disadvantaged people in society. Unsurprisingly, poverty, drug dealing, deprivation, poor health and crime became endemic in parts of the town – especially in the once thriving and attractive West End.
Over the last 20 years there have been various attempts to regenerate Morecambe with some notable successes such as the redevelopment of the famous art deco Midland Hotel and the historic promenade with bird sculptures and a popular statue of comedian, Eric Morecambe. Having your photo taken with ‘Eric’ has become a must-do part of any visit to Morecambe.
Failed ventures such as Noel Edmonds’ disastrous ‘Blobbyland’ at Happy Mount Park in the ‘90s, The Dome Theatre and Bubbles outdoor swimming pool which only lasted a few years and an exciting programme of festivals which was dumped when funding got cut, were huge blows to Morecambe.
Now a number of visionaries from ‘The Eden Project’ in Cornwall have plans to “re-imagine” Morecambe as ‘Eden Project North’; “A seaside resort for the 21st Century inspiring wonder and a connection with the natural world”.
National newspapers have focused on the ‘Eden Project’ connection and have been trumpeting Morecambe as a property hot-spot where seaside bargains are to be had. In other once run-down English seaside towns such as Margate, Weymouth, Padstow, Bournemouth and Southwold, such praise has sent property prices skyrocketing, squeezing local people out and lining the pockets of developers.
Before any potential transformation takes place, I have felt compelled to capture images of the town as it is now. Images that are unadorned, raw, without filters and, hopefully, honest.
Ironically, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020-2021 has seen the town’s promenade and beaches busier than they have been for several years, with numerous people taking exercise, drinking ‘artisan’ coffee and escaping from their homes for a breath of fresh air. However, on days when the rain pours and the winds ravage Morecambe Bay, the town reverts to its quieter, less pretentious self.
Some of my images are of locations which once thrived but are now derelict. The former Frontierland site, which was once home to a funfair run by the family that owns Blackpool Pleasure Beach, looks like a deserted war-zone. The old Dome and Bubbles sites, which will be home to the Eden Project North if the development goes ahead, are similarly deserted save for the odd dog walker or child on a bike.
Just a few steps away from the seafront, many of the back streets of Morecambe tell a story of deprivation and lost hope; a result, many would say, of years of government cuts and lack of investment.
Perhaps more inspiring is the promenade which leads to vast skies and rock-lined beaches with tidal mudflats beyond. It was on these sands and mud-flats that 23 Chinese cockle pickers tragically drowned in 2004; victims of ‘gang masters’ and other unscrupulous individuals who disregarded all safety measures and sealed the doom of these poor people who had come to England to work and try to make a better life for their families. This terrible disaster is now etched on the minds of local people.
The common thread running throughout the history of Morecambe is the sea. The fishing industry is long gone from Morecambe Bay as are the huge numbers of tourists, however the pull of the sea remains strong. There are even a few individuals who still fish for the famous Morecambe Bay shrimps and cockles.
I have tried to capture the stark beauty of the sea, sky and coastline; the huge skies and beaches punctuated by an occasional person stopping to stare out to sea or roam by the water.
Another new development is the current trend for ‘wild swimming’ and one of the images shows some people braving the waters.
It remains to be seen if the ‘Eden Project North’ will come to fruition as many people hope. There would, no doubt, be benefits from an injection of jobs and tourism. In recent weeks the project has been touted as a possible way out of the pandemic as it could create “green” jobs and could boost the local economy.
My feeling is that Morecambe is a beautiful place and it has an interesting blend of the beauty and grittiness often found in traditional English seaside towns. If the Eden Project North does happen it may well bring some jobs and a trendy revamped seafront to the town.
However, if nothing is done to address the poverty and deprivation that can clearly be seen just one street back from the promenade, the project will only benefit those who visit the “immersive attraction” and not Morecambe’s own people.