Turning the tide
Why small business thrives again on the British seaside
They were once the go-to beach resorts for UK families to holiday at over the summer for many years, but scores of British seaside towns have had to reinvent themselves after the severe slump in domestic tourism of the 80s and 90s. With tourists more likely to spend their money on Spanish and Greek beaches thanks to the rise of cheap package holidays, towns like Blackpool and Hastings were left struggling with rising unemployment and higher-than-average levels of welfare dependency. As a consequence, seaside towns endured bad and often unfair press coverage that blew their rankings in Britain’s Multiple Deprivation Index out of proportion (“The Northern Powerhouse", for example, has more boroughs suffering from multiple deprivation than Hastings, yet Manchester’s image has been far better nationally).
But the tide is finally turning, and the economy of seaside towns is improving thanks to the concerted, decade-long work of business owners and the government – as well as to the changing patterns of how we like to split our annual holiday budget between domestic and overseas leisure. In their study of this positive economic tendency, the Centre for Entrepreneurs described a number of cases where public and private investors worked hand-in-glove to rebrand and revive the economy of the seaside.
The town of Hastings is a case in point. The site of the decisive battle of the Norman conquest is famous for its historic sights and living fishing tradition – but after years of stagnation and painful public service cuts, Hastings could not rely solely on its traditions any more. A new strategy was drawn up.
And that strategy seems to have worked, as today Hastings is a great place to set up a small business. Rent is affordable, digital and physical infrastructure is improving and new businesses can benefit from a number of different grants, loans and mentoring schemes aimed at would-be entrepreneurs who set up shop in deprived or semi-deprived areas. No wonder that we met several entrepreneurs who moved to Hastings with the specific aim of starting or growing their business.
Business Reporter visited the town to see examples of business-led regeneration as well as its careful balancing act between growth, investment and affordability.