We visit the ‘proper’ seaside resort near Bristol drawing in visitors from as far as Japan and America

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‘They [visitors] want to experience a proper traditional English seaside resort because there aren’t many left’

The thundering noise of heavy machinery echoes around the seafront of Weston-super-Mare.

They’re clearing the site of the Tropicana, the former 1930s lido that in recent months was home to See Monster, a spectacular art installation created from a decommissioned North Sea offshore drilling platform.

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Eight years ago, this old open-air pool was used by Banksy for his Dismaland installation. Banksy’s short residency attracted 150,000 visitors to Weston-super-Mare and generated an estimated £20m in extra revenue for the town.

That’s the same figure Weston-super-Mare has just won in North Somerset Council’s bid from the government’s Levelling Up fund. The money will go towards Weston-super-Mare heritage landmarks like the Tropicana and the dilapidated Birnbeck Pier.

The council plans to turn the Tropicana into an 8,000 capacity events space and bring the pier’s listed buildings on the shore side back into use. The £20m is a huge boost for Weston-super-Mare and will hopefully increase footfall and spending in the town.

Victoria works at John’s Rock Shop opposite the Grand Pier and looking out across the beach. The open-fronted shop is crammed with souvenirs and gifts, from boxes of fudge to sticks of rock with ‘Weston-super-Mare’ running through the middle.

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“You’d be amazed how many belts we sell,” laughs Victoria. “People leave them behind when they come on holiday.”

The shop has been open six years and it enjoyed a busy summer last year. As well as holidaymakers, there was also a noticeable increase in people visiting the See Monster.

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Victoria says the £20m funding is good news as it will rejuvenate the town and bring in more holidaymakers and daytrippers, but the money could also go towards other improvements.

She said: “We need a good spruce up certain areas. There’s a bit of a litter problem here - the seafront is fine because the team works so hard but it’s the backstreets where there are problems.”

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Victoria says Weston-super-Mare attracts a wide range of visitor, with many people staying for long weekends or entire weeks.

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She said: “A lot of the hotels run themed weekends which brings in business, and there are scooter rallies, but we get a lot of overseas people from America and Japan. They want to experience a proper traditional English seaside resort because there aren’t many left.”

Along the seafront, many of the hotels are closed for the winter but will be back open by spring. The gates of the Water Adventure Playpark are padlocked and the beaches are empty apart from dog walkers and joggers.

Further along the seafront at Madeira Cove - known locally as ‘The Rocks’ - a few walkers are warming up over hot chocolate and homemade sausage rolls.

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Victoria with Weston-super-Mare sticks of rock on sale at John’s Rock Shop on the seafrontVictoria with Weston-super-Mare sticks of rock on sale at John’s Rock Shop on the seafront
Victoria with Weston-super-Mare sticks of rock on sale at John’s Rock Shop on the seafront | Mark Taylor

The peaceful cove is overlooked by the former Daunceys Hotel, which occupies several towering Victorian buildings. With its views of Weston Bay across to the South Wales coast, this was once one of the busiest hotels in town but, like many other hotels nearby, it is now being converted into apartments with sought-after sea views.

Near the derelict and skeletal Birnbeck Pier, a volunteer is telling a group of visitors about its history and what the future might hold.

Opened in 1867, this Grade II-listed structure was once the main attraction in Weston and it was immortalised 60 years ago when The Beatles were photographed on the rocks below when they were in town to perform at The Odeon (now a cinema).

The iconic Birnbeck Pier in Weston-super-Mare has been derelict for more than 20 yearsThe iconic Birnbeck Pier in Weston-super-Mare has been derelict for more than 20 years
The iconic Birnbeck Pier in Weston-super-Mare has been derelict for more than 20 years | Mark Taylor

Now at risk of collapse, North Somerset Council succeeded in a court case against the owners and hopes to buy the pier with a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO).

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The pier volunteer tells us that they would like the pier to be repaired and back open as a multi-functional attraction, perhaps with a cinema and a venue for weddings and conferences. The RNLI also hope to return to the pier, which was their base for many years until it closed due to safety concerns.

With £20m in the pot, the council finally has a golden opportunity to revive the much loved old pier but also enhance Weston-super-Mare’s status as the quintessential English seaside resort.

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