Covid Roller Coaster Adds To Blackpool's Decline

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Its ghost train ride stands idle and the golden beach is deserted. For seaside resort Blackpool, the Covid roller coaster has dealt another hammer blow to one of England's most deprived towns.

Windswept Blackpool, on England's northwest coast, was a thriving holiday destination before package holidays to sunnier climes took off in the 1980s.

The pandemic has dealt a hammer blow to Britain's seaside resort of Blackpool The pandemic has dealt a hammer blow to Britain's seaside resort of Blackpool  AFP / PAUL ELLIS

But even with 18 million visitors a year before the pandemic, it is a shadow of its former self.

There is still its famous illuminations light show, Victorian tower and ballroom, plus its Pleasure Beach theme park featuring giant roller coasters and carousels.

Blackpool, on England's northwest coast, was once a thriving holiday destination before package holidays took off Blackpool, on England's northwest coast, was once a thriving holiday destination before package holidays took off  AFP / PAUL ELLIS

Boarded up shops, though, highlight the town's decline in recent years, a legacy of the effects of government austerity measures imposed after the 2008 global financial crisis.

And now Covid has made the situation worse, leaving struggling Blackpool businesses and people between a rock and a hard place.

Residents not previously reliant on emergency government support have suddenly found themselves dependent on soup kitchens and food banks Residents not previously reliant on emergency government support have suddenly found themselves dependent on soup kitchens and food banks  AFP / PAUL ELLIS

The town's vital tourism industry is shut for at least another month under government plans to gradually ease the lockdown restrictions, having remained closed for most of the year last year due to the virus fighting measures.

Residents not previously reliant on emergency government support have suddenly found themselves dependent on soup kitchens and food banks for meals.

According to government data in 2019, Blackpool had eight of the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in England According to government data in 2019, Blackpool had eight of the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in England  AFP / PAUL ELLIS

"It's just been so hard," says Ali Alian, a 50-year-old chef, who lost his job making fast food.

He told AFP he did not come to food banks before the pandemic, as he set off on an hour-long walk home in the dark with a large sports bag filled with food handed out by the charity Street Angels.

"Now I feel like I'm in a hole. I'm going down and I don't know how I'll get out of that hole," he added.

Mark Butcher, founder of Blackpool's Amazing Graze soup kitchen, says the number of weekly visitors has jumped to 400 from 250 before Covid Mark Butcher, founder of Blackpool's Amazing Graze soup kitchen, says the number of weekly visitors has jumped to 400 from 250 before Covid  AFP / PAUL ELLIS

Sylvia Culshaw, of Blackpool Food Bank, says the very fact of knowing the town has so much poverty is hard to bear Sylvia Culshaw, of Blackpool Food Bank, says the very fact of knowing the town has so much poverty is hard to bear  AFP / PAUL ELLIS

Britain's seaside resorts, which all rely on tourism to boost the local economy, have suffered huge financial losses during the past year.

The pandemic locked down their mainstay of restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, entertainment venues, and sweet shops selling traditional sticks of sugary rock.

The English town of Blackpool is known for its traditional sea-front promenade, but away from the beach it’s one of the poorest towns in the UK. As in many deprived areas, the pandemic has only made matters worse. The English town of Blackpool is known for its traditional sea-front promenade, but away from the beach it’s one of the poorest towns in the UK. As in many deprived areas, the pandemic has only made matters worse.  AFPTV / Paul BARKER

The town, close to major cities Manchester and Liverpool, received tourism revenue totalling ?1.5 billion ($2.1 billion, 1.75 billion euros) in 2019, according to local government data.

Alian earns around the same per month as he did weekly before the pandemic -- between ?300 and ?400 ($417-$556, 350-417 euros) -- thanks to the Universal Credit state benefit.

But "it's not enough" to cover extras such as electricity and municipal bills on top of the rent, he adds.

In the nearby train station's car park, where Street Angels distributes hot meals and drinks plus groceries donated by businesses, volunteer Alice Smith says more people are relying on its services than ever before.

"We used to have a lot of regulars, now a lot of new people in the last six months" are coming, said Smith.

They are people who "have a home but they can't afford to buy food", says the 24 year-old, who adds that the town has however "a lot less rough sleepers because councils have been placing them in rooms or hotels" amid Covid.

Mark Butcher, founder of Blackpool's Amazing Graze soup kitchen, has seen the number of weekly visitors jump to 400 from 250 before Covid.

Government data in 2019 revealed that Blackpool had eight of the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in England.

Sylvia Culshaw, in charge of Blackpool Food Bank which hands out basic provisions to those most in need, said the very fact of knowing the town has so much poverty is hard to bear.

Families charity Home Start Blackpool has meanwhile been unable to cope with a surge in demand during the pandemic.

"For the first time in 11 years since Home Start in Blackpool opened, we had to close the doors to referrals because we were at capacity," said chief executive Pat Naylor.

The charity now has a waiting list of 40 families.

But for Naylor, because of "the damage that Covid has done to people's self-worth, it's going to take a lot longer to bring people back to being really confident again".

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