How Southport is re-opening with confidence
PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 August 2020 | UPDATED: 14:03 20 August 2020
There are green shoots of recovery and bold plans to help make Southport a success for years to come.
It should have been Alan Adams’ dream job. The former civil servant, who worked for the Home Office, had volunteered at Southport Flower Show for 15 years before finally taking up the top post as its general manager in February. Just a few weeks later the country was put into lockdown, taking with it all chances of the event he’d longed to lead going ahead.
‘When I first started, I had ambitions of taking Southport Flower Show through to its 100th anniversary,’ says Alan, who has lived in Southport for 40 years. ‘I was chomping at the bit and absolutely on cloud nine. Then Coronavirus hit us. We had traders pulling out, a huge slow down in ticket sales and everything was so uncertain.
‘Taking the decision to cancel was the right thing to do but after so much hard work – each show takes 15 to 18 months to organise – it was disappointing. The show is a part of the history of the town, it’s in its very make up, as well as being something that generates a lot towards the local economy.’
In fact, the four-day event contributes £4.5 million to Southport’s economy – a huge £2.5 million of that coming directly from money spent at the show. But, undeterred, Alan and his team’s focus has turned to 2021 and building an event that will help strengthen and continue to rebuild the town following the impact of Covid-19. As we went to press, the new dates for Southport Flower Show were due to be announced as August 19th-22nd 2021. With a theme of Life in Bloom, the event will echo this year’s plans with a focus on health, wellbeing and mental health.
‘We have had so much support from the local community and show goers and so much understanding when he had to cancel. Now we are focussing on rebuilding and making sure we put on a fantastic show,’ says Alan. ‘One thing lockdown has taught us is the importance of wellbeing and mental health and to be able to put this in the spotlight next year is something we’re really proud of.’
Alan is also looking at ways to develop more events in Victoria Park, which he also manages. The park is already home to the flower show as well as Southport Air Show and Southport Fireworks Championships and is at times available for caravans to use. But Alan is also hoping to set up new events that will bring in more people to the resort including ambitious plans to emulate the success of Lytham Festival.
‘We would start small but it would be good to be able to reach this kind of success,’ says Alan. ‘We’re already talking about possible acts and people who might like to be involved. There are 34 acres of this historical parkland and it would be wonderful to share it with more people, to have more people fall in love with Southport and help local people rediscover their love of the town. We have lost a lot of income so we need to think of ways we can help to bring happy times and much needed funds to the town. I know if we work together we can do it.’
The summer months play an important part in Southport’s financial success. August would usually be a month with crowds filling Lord Street, the beach, shops and businesses and places like Victoria Park. But there is a determination showed by Alan and his team that is being echoed around the town, by people and groups who are working hard to make sure Southport weathers the unprecedented situation brought about by Covid-19.
This includes the Southport Town Deal group who are putting together plans for how to use a £25 million boost in the town. Southport was one of 100 towns invited to bid for the money as a part of the Government’s Town Fund. Although this was announced last year, the pot of possible funding is now more important than ever and the group are putting together a Town Investment Plan.
‘This isn’t a fund that will mean huge projects but it will be a much-needed kickstart, which is even more crucial at a time when we’re trying to recover,’ says Rob Fletcher, chairman of Southport Town Deal. ‘We’re putting together a long-term vision, leading all the way up to 2050, looking at those potential projects that will have an impact now but also in the future.’
Plans in the pipeline include ways to develop the waterfront including the currently closed Southport Theatre and Convention Centre, waterfront properties, ways to boost visitor numbers at Pleasureland, an indoor street market, transport interchange and a complete regeneration of the high street.
‘I love Southport, it’s my home town and I want to see it do well,’ says Rob, who knows personally the impact of Covid-19 after spending 11 days in intensive care fighting the virus. ‘There is a huge opportunity for us. I want to see Southport do well and see it return to its glory days.
‘There is such a will from the local community for it to do well, from business owners to stakeholders and members of the public and we now want to harness all of that positive energy and unlock significant investment and an exciting future for the town.’
The Southport BID group has been offering invaluable support throughout lockdown and is now helping businesses navigate their new ways of working. As well as encouraging locals to rediscover their love for many of the businesses in the town through the Southport Independents campaign, they have also provided business support and advice and launched a Southport Gift Card scheme, a pre-payment card to boost local shopping and keep people contributing to the economy.
‘People have spent more time exploring their local area and have discovered parts they haven’t seen before or rediscovered ones they have not visited for a while, say Sarah Rodriguez, business engagement manager for Southport BID. This is the same with businesses, some of which have kept people going during lockdown. We want to keep that engagement going.
‘We want everyone to embrace Southport and support it by using the facilities, services and amenities. These are such challenging circumstances – some of which were already there before Covid-19 – but we know the key to our success now will be everyone working together.
‘We want people to support their local businesses. The gift card will give shoppers choice and also encourage and protect local spending. We want to help as much as we can to get businesses back open and back on their feet.’
There has been more support for Southport from Sefton Council, too, with more than £44 million of grants to more than local businesses across the borough, including the coastal town, to help businesses cope with the pressures coronavirus as caused.
‘It has been an absolute lifeline for businesses,’ says Councillor Marion Atkinson, Sefton Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Skills. ‘And is one of the many things Sefton Council has been doing to help. Now the shops and high streets are starting to reopen, coming back to life again, we want people to support the town and shop local wherever they can.
‘If we work together and support our local people, Southport will be able to bounce back from the challenges Coronavirus gave so many people.
‘There are exciting proposals coming through like the Southport Town Deal and hopefully we can start to plan for the future.’