Morecambe's new age - the seaside town is reinventing itself
PUBLISHED: 08:47 03 April 2017 | UPDATED: 09:12 03 April 2017
Historic discoveries, ambitious plans and inspiring locals are leading this seaside town into a new era, as Emma Mayoh discovered.
Morecambe’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed like the tide. From its time as one of England’s most loved seaside resorts to its gradual decline, there have always been people keen to see this Lancashire resort shine.
Property developer Ian Bond has long shown interest in Morecambe, renovating old buildings around the town. But his latest projects are his biggest challenges so far. He is currently restoring the old Alhambra Theatre building – most recently named the Carleton nightclub – as well as the former Battery Hotel which he is turning into luxury homes overlooking Morecambe Bay.
‘The old Alhambra would have been a stunning building,’ said Ian, who grew up on a farm in the Lune Valley. ‘Laurence Olivier’s The Entertainer was filmed here and some of the biggest names in the business once treaded the boards.
‘They even had a waterfall in the theatre that pumped out tonnes of water and, rumour has it, an elephant was winched up in the theatre as part of one of the productions. A lot of the original building was destroyed by a huge fire in 1970 which is a great shame. But I want to do what I can to bring it back into use.’
Determined not to rush the revival of these buildings, Ian and his small team are painstakingly trying to rescue any original features. He is going to transform the vast space in the old theatre into an entertainment venue with bar.
The upper floor, where some of the theatre’s original workings can still be seen, will become a restaurant and a place where old black and white images of Morecambe will be projected on the walls.
The old terrace on the roof of the building will also be reinstated to make the most of the glorious views of Morecambe Bay and a tower will be renovated into a luxury hotel.
‘I don’t want to rush these renovations,’ he said. ‘These are buildings that need to be treated carefully. Morecambe is a wonderful place which unfortunately fell on hard times.
‘I really feel it has already hit rock bottom and is now on its way back up. And I really hope that I can help on that journey with the work I’m doing here.’
There has been a dedicated bunch whose work has been music to the ears of people in and around the town. Pete Moser founded More Music, a community music and education charity, 24 years ago as a bid to work to improve the fortunes of the town. The talented musician was keen to use music and creative arts activities to help people and communities build confidence.
It started as one small office in the corner of a former music hall, now called The Hothouse. Today that same building is filled with music and activity with recording studios, technical rooms and a concert space which has played host to internationally renowned artists from jazz, folk, indie and world music.
More Music also organise several of the town’s most popular events including a Lantern Parade, the hugely popular Catch the Wind Kite Festival and West End Festival.
‘Morecambe has and is continually changing,’ said Pete, a composer, producer and teacher as well as artistic director and CEO. ‘When we first set up here the West End wasn’t somewhere you came. No one would leave their car parked here. It just wasn’t considered safe.
‘It’s just not like that anymore. Attitudes have changed and there is so much positivity going on in the community. I like to believe we had something to do with that. We believe in developing a sense of place by working with and in communities.
For Stuart Robinson returning to his hometown of Morecambe has been the perfect rehabilitation.
The 34-year-old was left with 36 injuries including the life-changing loss of his lower left leg and severe damage to his right leg and arm. It happened while he was serving in the RAF on his fourth tour of Afghanistan.
The vehicle he was in drove over an IED while on a routine patrol near Camp Bastion in February 2013. He lost his left leg in the blast but made the difficult decision to have his shattered right leg amputated after he regained consciousness.
‘The explosion threw me out of the vehicle,’ recalled Stuart. ‘I knew I’d lost my left leg straight away. The medical team came and got me and they give you pain relief and medicine that helps.
‘The next thing I remember is waking up in hospital in Birmingham. I had been in a coma for two months.
‘My jaw was shattered when the explosion had gone off so when I woke up my jaw was wired shut. My wife, Amy, had really been through it too and I couldn’t communicate with her. That was a very hard time.’
But Stuart has been determined to move on with his life and achieve new ambitions. Not only has he dedicated his time to his wife and their children, George, seven and Amelia, 18 months, he is also an Invictus Games double medal winner and a member of team GB’s Olympic wheelchair rugby squad. His dream is to compete at the Paralympic Games.
Throughout his rehabilitation he has received help from the RAF Benevolent Fund and has now teamed up with them as part of their national campaign. He is working with Midland Hotel head chef Michael Wilson to support the Great British Sunday Lunch on April 2nd. The campaign is encouraging people to create their own tasty dishes and hosting friends and family to raise money for the charity.
Stuart, with Michael’s help, has already held an event at his own Morecambe home. He prepared roast rump of lamb, spiced pearl barley broth and cumin roasted aubergines.
‘Sunday lunch is a great British tradition that families can enjoy together,’ said Stuart. ‘Why not host a meal in aid of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund?
‘I have been fortunate enough to be supported by the fund since sustaining my injuries in 2013 and their help has enabled me to live a normal life as a husband and a father.
‘The Great British Sunday Lunch will provide vital funds that will help make a real difference to members of the RAF and their families.’
A Bronze Age hoard could be the clue to life in the Morecambe area during its ancient past. The hoard was initially discovered by local metal detectorists three years ago. Dig Ventures, a social enterprise organising crowdfunded archaeological excavation experiences, were enlisted to launch the Barrowed Time project. Last summer, initial excavations at the undisclosed site in Morecambe were undertaken by archeology experts as well as locals from the community. These included members of Morecambe Heritage Society and enthusiasts who travelled from across the globe to be a part of it.
A burial site, covered in white stones was discovered, along with tools. Most interesting though was a completely intact ceramic urn containing the cremated bones of a person along with other ceramic pieces and a flint.
‘This urn is 4,000 years old so for it still to be intact was incredible,’ said Maiya Pina-Dacier, community manager for Dig Ventures. ‘It was buried upside down which isn’t unheard of but it is unusual so we’re trying to find out why this might be. When we pulled it out of the ground it was a tense and exhilarating moment.’
The finds are now being examined in a laboratory to help piece together the significance of the site. More excavations are planned for September where experts and enthusiasts will again get the opportunity to take part.
‘This is going to be the key to finding out more about the Bronze Age in Lancashire,’ said Maiya. ‘At the moment there is a big gap in knowledge on the map when you look at Lancashire. We feel this could give us a clue to how people lived and how they connected with other cultures and people. It is such an exciting and significant development for the area.’