A couple of weeks back four of the members Team Hebe headed over to Blackpool. Having two international members of the team we wanted to show them a different side to England. Speaking honestly, we went for a little bit for the fun and to show them the 'tacky' side of England... what we found however was a place with unbelievable potential and character.
As some of the regular readers of the blog will know we are obsessed with cities and towns, their brands and how they function. We often talk about our home city of Leeds or places in which we are currently creating projects like Barcelona, Manchester, Taipei, Stockholm and loads more, but Blackpool has never been on our radar. Sure we have been there loads of times for a laugh or night out in our teenage years but now, profssionally speaking, we like to work with places who have a strong interest in developing their creative economies and a global brand around that and we never thought that Blackpool fell into this category. It still does not, but what it does have is a canvas, a stage, a platform that with the right plan, could create something new for the town.
What struck me when I arrived was how dead the place was. As we walked along the front we could see more hotels closed then open. Many of the shops and restaurants were closed. It may have something to do with the season but this was mid-April so you would expect some life there. We had a walk out on the peer and most of the shops and cafes there were closed but lots of the rides were working. Immediately with our creative brains running into over-drive we were talking about all the spots on the peer that would make for a great photo-shoot. The overall feeling was so retro, not in a 'hipster taking-the-piss' way, but in a 'this is so cool that it has not changed' way.
Later in the day we hit some of the arcades along the front. Some were closed down but the biggest one, Coral Island, was alive and kicking. After checking out at least four games that didn't work and swallowed our money, we decided to get competitive on the 'Camel Race' game. It was great fun and made us all feel like kids again!
As we walked around the city we discussed possible ideas and projects that could perhaps help to take Blackpool in a new direction, one that respects and incorporates the past, but looks toward the future and could help kick-start a new era for the city. This is not to say Blackpool is not improving in some areas because it is, but it seems that even though it is the UK's busiest sea-side resort, some things are not quite working. Some of this is through no fault of their own, the cost of taking a holiday abroad has fallen dramatically over the past 20 years and places like Blackpool have taken a hit.
On a more positive note, the council have bought up some of the main tourist attractions and features of the city and are putting some of them in hands of experts (for example the people who run the London Eye will now run Blackpool Tower). Blackpool's football team are currently in the premiership, Nickelodeon Land is coming to the Pleasure Beach and Madame Tussauds is replacing Louis Tussauds on the front. I am sure those things will help pull in some extra tourists and keep some of the hotels and shops in business for a few more years... but what about if during this time Blackpool developed something else?
The visuals of Blackpool are amazing. The old buildings, the deserted spaces, the things that have been untouched for 20 years... these are so inspiring for creatives. We had more ideas walking along the front in Blackpool then we have had walking around many other cities.
How can Blackpool attract a younger, creative crowd? Well look at the spaces they have/could have. We had already dreamed up photo-shoots for at least three brands we work with. It seems lots of the magic of Blackpool's golden period is buried under a layer of dust and decay, if that was removed it could be amazing again. It does not need rebuilding, only some TLC. Blackpool should be proud of it's past and where it has come from. But instead of only looking at tourist numbers, they should think about how to get people to come and stay. To develop ideas, projects, content and businesses in Blackpool. If we are so inspired by the city, we are sure lots more would be. New people, ideas and projects can sit side-by-side with the more traditional stuff, in fact they can help in ways Blackpool may not even realise yet.
In a global economy we in the UK sometimes take for granted our current position and think that replicating the past or attracting a new chain store is going to take a city or town to the next level. What we are ignoring is the fact that China, India, Brazil, Russia (and many more not just the BRIC) are developing at lightening pace. They are creating, they are innovating, they are spending. What we have in the UK is an amazing canvas and still some of the best creative minds in the world. We should be thinking about these two can fit together and Blackpool has all the ingredients to be at the centre of some of that thinking.