Coronavirus: Seaside resort Cleveleys looks to life after lockdown

Image caption Cleveleys is situated just along the shore from Blackpool on the Fylde Coast

There isn't a town in the UK which has been unaffected by the coronavirus crisis. But seaside towns, with their leisure economies, will be among those hardest hit in the long-term. North of England correspondent Judith Moritz visited one Lancashire resort to find out what the future might hold.

Walking along the sands of Rossall Beach, you wouldn't think the forecast was so gloomy.

The Irish Sea can be unforgiving in winter but, at high season, when the sun glistens on the water, the coastline at Cleveleys looks its best.

Just along the shore from Blackpool, life in the lesser-known resort moves at a gentler pace.

It's why so many people choose to retire here.

According to the Office for National Statistics, pensioners make up a third of the town's population.

It means the place has an old-fashioned feel, and there's a strong sense of community. But it also means that many here are vulnerable to coronavirus.

'I can't see the end of it'

Image caption Former coach driver Steve Berger is among those shielding in his home

Steve Berger sits on a bench by his front door, watching the world go by. I pay him a visit but keep my distance, as all his friends now have to do. He strokes his dog Misty, and says "What I miss most is the hugs".

The 73-year-old worked as a coach driver before retiring to Cleveleys 20 years ago.

He has multiple health problems and a poster on his front door alerts visitors to the fact he is shielding. His bungalow has become his fortress.

"I've got parts of my lung missing, and I've been so scared of this virus because I think if I get it I'm a goner," he said.

"The doctor told me I was a high-risk, and I thought "it's not worth it" so I stocked up with food and locked the door, and that was it."

Mr Berger has the support of his neighbours and friends, but he is otherwise coping alone.

"I get depressed, because I can't see the end of it," he said.

'Like having two winters'

Image caption Restaurant owner Jakki Slack has been running The Venue for 20 years

Seasonal businesses in Cleveleys are also being tested by the prolonged shutdown.

Town landmark the Venue is an imposing white building that stands out against the blue sky.

Its bars and function rooms play host to christenings, weddings and wakes. This should be its busiest time, so lockdown couldn't have come at a worse point in the year.

When pubs and restaurants were ordered to close in March, it was barely 24 hours before Mother's Day.

The tables were all booked and the fridges were full.

But all that business was lost and, in one stroke, a season's worth of events including weddings and beer festivals was cancelled.

"We need the summer to get through the winter," said owner Jakki Slack.

"If we don't open at the start of July it means any time after that we're heading back out of the summer season and there isn't a seasonal business in any resort that can survive two winters back to back."

Image caption Many coastal areas are reliant on tourism in the summer months

Research by the Centre for Towns supports this. The think-tank has found that coastal resort towns are among those most likely to feel the consequences of coronavirus.

Cleveleys is high on the list. Nearly half of its workforce is employed in businesses which have been closed during the shutdown.

But Ms Slack said she wasn't worried about the long term, as long as two things happen: getting the green light to reopen safely as soon as possible and financial support from the government.

"If we get the help that we need, I think we will thrive afterwards," she said.

'People want normality'

Image caption Plenty of shoppers can still be seen on the High Street in Cleveleys

There is similar confidence on the High Street. Wandering through the centre of Cleveleys, you can hardly tell there's a lockdown on. The street is bustling. There are long queues for supermarkets.

But what of non-food shops, closed now for nine weeks?

Behind the shutters of the World Travel Lounge, managing director David McDonald is busy removing all the holiday brochures from the shelves. It is part of making the shop safe for customers so that it can reopen at the first opportunity.

Mr McDonald is confident trade will return because shopping locally is important to the people of Cleveleys.

Image caption Managing director David McDonald said shopping locally is important in the area

"People want to get back out and try to get some sense of normality," he said.

"We've actually had customers requesting that we keep their holiday on hold until they can come and see us.

"Obviously with the age range of the local population they may struggle to get to other towns so we're going to where our customers need us."

Walking along the promenade, I find Jane Littlewood, a Yorkshirewoman who loved holidaying in Cleveleys so much she moved here permanently.

She now promotes the town through the Visit Cleveleys website.

Ms Littlewood agrees that the people of Cleveleys value doing business face-to-face.

"This is an old-fashioned kind of place. It's almost like going back 20 years in time," she said.

"There are still strong community values, there's still a strong sense of people helping one another when times get tough.

"If everybody does a little bit of work then between us we're unstoppable."

That's the confidence Cleveleys will need when lockdown lifts. It isn't the only place with a long recovery ahead of it.

But its strong sense of community may prove to be its biggest asset, in helping the town to get back on its feet.

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