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Poverty Truth Commission Manager Gillian Oliver talks about the newest service to the Empowerment Family

Something about sifting through Blackpool housing and health statistics made us want to go to the beach.  We went as residents, not tourists, to taste its famous fresh air and fun, and to listen.

Every Poverty Truth Commission in the UK starts by listening; to individual stories of living with lack, and indeed listening to the story of a town.

And here’s Blackpool’s story.  Europe’s premier health resort, a place to ‘take the waters’ – a northerly Bath Spa you could say, with a hundred-year heyday. Now, unfortunately, it’s home to some of Europe’s most deprived wards, topping the bill in ill-health, low pay, unemployment and overcrowding. But, in the fourth most crowded conurbation outside London, the Golden Mile is gilt-edged space.

As well as the Poverty Truth Commission team we also invited Andy Divall to take a stroll along the promenade. Andy is the Strategic Equality and Diversity Manager at Blackpool Council and is in a position to make key changes when decisions are being made in the town. It is really important that we have this relationship when gathering the voices of those living in the town who are experiencing poverty.

With the sun shining and passion to hear what people thought we asked a passer-by why she liked the sea.  She answered with a single, simple word, “Peace”.

If the waves mediate peace, and peace is health giving, is this why we see people looking out onto the sands and perhaps why lots of people visit the town each year?

The prom, renewed about 15 years ago, offers giant pebbles instead of chairs.  We found them hard to relax on. We also saw all the great attractions lined up to coax us away from the ocean’s peaceful vibe, but with Poverty at the forefront of our minds how accessible are these fun filled spaces?

Once upon a time there was more life on the ocean waves. Steamers (small boats) took giddy schoolchildren the half mile between Central and North Piers until the 1960s. Our research suggests that many 10 year old residents have never seen the sea. Again with the rising costs of attractions its understandable.

However there are still free elements to the town. For example it is free to walk along Central Pier and you’re welcome to eat a packed lunch on the picnic tables there. One business owner we spoke to wanted more to offer residents ,”We used to get discounted tickets every week to give away.  Not anymore.  Not even a prize draw”.  This showing the sign of the times when it comes to how seaside resort businesses have changed, keeping up with a growing economy such as fast fashion and budget chains.

With 140,000 people living here (a number that more than doubles in an average half term week), we wondered how Blackpool’s hard-pressed residents really feel about their town.  We will keep on listening and that is why we will be out and about in the coming month asking people about living in Blackpool in these days when poverty is rising.  Did you lose your job in the pandemic?  Were you one of the thousands barred from government support?  Are you supporting a hard-pressed neighbour or friend?

We want to hear your story and use this to make real and life changing change in Blackpool. Tell us your story here: povertytruthblackpool@empowermentcharity.org.uk

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