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New developments and an artistic revolution are giving Blackpool a new image

PUBLISHED: 00:07 10 May 2013 | UPDATED: 19:19 07 September 2017

The Comedy Carpet opposite Blackpool Tower

The Comedy Carpet opposite Blackpool Tower

Archant

Britain’s party town ready for makeover. Paul Mackenzie reports

Birley Street with the church of St John the Evangelist beyond Birley Street with the church of St John the Evangelist beyond

Blackpool is so deeply ingrained in our consciousness that we can all instantly call to mind an image of the resort. For generations the town, with its immediately recognisable landmarks – the Golden Mile, the Tower, the piers – has been synonymous with fresh air, fun and holidays. Your impression of the town may be of sticks of rock, donkeys on the beach and kiss me quick hats, or perhaps high octane white knuckle rides, or maybe raucous drink-fuelled revelry. But Blackpool is changing.

It still prides itself on its status as favourite holiday resort – more tourist beds than all of Portugal is the oft-quoted claim – but the town is living up to the its motto: Progress.

It’s not just the traditional favourites such as the Illuminations and the Pleasure Beach, that pull in the crowds, visitors are now drawn to Blackpool for the International Firework Championship, the annual Showzam circus festival, and the eclectic collection of artworks on the prom.

The first pieces were installed at South Shore about a decade ago and the latest installation, the Comedy Carpet, unveiled by legendary Ken Dodd, covers a large area of the prom opposite the Tower and features hundreds of the most famous catchphrases, jokes and one-liners in British comedy history.

And alongside the new attractions, some of the town’s most famous icons have been given an overhaul too. There is now – strictly for those with a head for heights and a steely nerve – a glass-floored section at the top of the Tower, and the traditional trams have been replaced by sleek modern vehicles, although the old-fashioned trams will still be pressed into service from time to time.

Just a few minutes walk inland from the glitz and bright lights of the prom, though, stand street after street of shabby guest houses and b&bs that have seen better days, but although many look tired and unloved most have No Vacancies signs hanging in the lace-curtained windows.

And a little further inland still is the new focus of development and progress in Blackpool, a £220m scheme which is creating new offices, shops and roads (as well as some almighty traffic jams).

The new development – rather grandly named the Central Business District Talbot Gateway project – includes a new Sainsbury’s supermarket due to open later this year, a refurbished multi-storey car park and new council offices which should be ready by spring 2014.

It is hoped that when the sleek new development is completed the small, largely independent, shops on nearby streets will be given a much-needed boost.

And the changes are not all bricks and mortar, there’s an artistic revolution underway in Blackpool too – one element of which is brightening up the bricks and mortar.

The Sand, Sea and Spray festival, which began in 2011, attracts the world’s best and most creative graffiti artists whose work can now be seen all over the town. The event, which will be held this year from June 14-16, is organised by Robin Ross, a former DJ who now produces screen prints and runs courses from his base close to the town centre.

He shares the Old Rock Factory with other arty types including the community crafts group Auntie Social and photographer Linzi Cason who was Blackpool Council’s first official photographer.

Since leaving the council in 2010, Linzi has worked on developing her own career but she says her two years there meant she saw her home town in a new light. ‘Blackpool was changing at the time,’ she said. ‘I photographed anything and everything that was going on here.

‘I had a great time and had so much fun. There’s always something going on or someone coming to perform here – I met so many celebrities, everyone from Paloma Faith to Steve Redgrave.

‘And I was able to spend time on documentary photography as well and there really is nowhere better for that than Blackpool. It has so much to offer if you just look.’

The 28-year-old now runs workshops with Robin offering a photographic tour of the town in the morning and the chance to screen print your image in the afternoon. ‘Getting people involved in art is what the Old Rock Factory is about,’ she added. ‘There are a lot of arts events going on around Blackpool and a lot of small groups working hard to get people involved. There is an image of Blackpool as an entertainment town where people come to let their hair down, but there’s another side to the place and that is really starting to grow and I’m excited about being a part of that.’

Seaside snaps

Blackpool is a photographer’s paradise, so don’t forget your camera. Your pictures could win terrific prizes in our super annual photographic competition. Full details can found elsewhere in this issue and online at lancashire.greatbritishlife.co.uk. There’s hundreds or great readers’ pictures already online and if you need further inspiration, go to linzicasonphotography.co.uk

5 of the best

Thought Blackpool was just for drinkers and party-goers? Think again, with our selection of five great (and sober) places to go

The Comedy Carpet

Whatever your comedy tastes you’ll have your funny bone tickled by a stroll around the 2,200m2 Comedy Carpet opposite the Tower. Catchphrases and jokes from 1,000 comic greats including many who found fame in the resort’s theatres.

Tower ballroom

A classic and classy place to enjoy an afternoon of relaxed traditional entertainment. The beautifully ornate ballroom was home to Come Dancing for many years and has hosted the newer, stricter, version of the show’s final.

Stanley Park

Perfect for a walk, Stanley Park has miles of paths, well-tended gardens, a lake and a splendid art deco café.

Grand Theatre

One of Britain’s most attractive theatres, the Grand has a year-round programme of shows and events. The theatre was saved from demolition by a Friends group in the early 1970s and the group are still active fundraisers.

Grundy Art Gallery

Opened just over 100 years ago, the Grundy is free to visit and features regularly changing exhibitions of contemporary art as well as items from its own collection and historically important pieces loaned from other institutions.

For more information on events in Blackpool, go online to www.visitblackpool.com.

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