Southport BID chief executive Rachel Fitzgerald has shared her views on how she believes that recovery from pandemic offers the resort a ‘golden opportunity for reinvention’ – and we must ‘grab it!’
Rachel Fitzgerald said: “It was Churchtown innkeeper William Sutton who first put Southport on the map when he built a bathing house here in 1792.
“Our town prospered during the Industrial Revolution when the rapid growth of the railways, and the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, offered working class people the opportunity to flock to the seaside in their thousands for the first time.
“To this day Southport remains one of the most popular seaside resorts in the UK. People from across the Liverpool city region, and far beyond, count day trips to our town in the summer time among their most vivid and cherished childhood memories.
“However, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp focus how towns and cities that rely heavily on a single sector are more vulnerable to economic shocks. Summer has been a write-off for Southport’s visitor economy.
“Our restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels and our famous fairground have suffered, and continue to suffer, badly. COVID-19 restrictions have led to plummeting revenues. Government grants, loans and furlough schemes provide some support – but they will not be enough to stop some businesses going under.
“Here at Southport BID we will continue to do everything within our power to support our friends and colleagues in the hospitality sector. At the same time we must begin to expand our thinking and create a future vision for Southport that will offer people real opportunities. A thriving, diverse place where people will come to live and work.
“In early November, a £400m plan for the transformation of Southport proposed new visitor attractions, a convention centre and business incubators and the creation of 1,250 jobs. Southport Town Deal board is asking the Government for £50m from the Town Deals Fund.
“This is a fantastic project and we can go much further. Southport’s tourism and leisure sector will remain a key driver of growth. To complement that we need to widen our offer and future-proof our economy by encouraging a more diverse range of business sectors to grow and develop.
“We don’t have to look far within the Liverpool city region, and the wider North West for inspiration. For examples of regeneration and reinvention. Not much more than a decade ago, Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle was a collection of empty, derelict warehouses. Now it is home to one of the fastest-growing digital and creative hubs in the UK – with more than 500 businesses.
“Neighbouring the Baltic, Liverpool’s £2bn Knowledge Quarter is also growing fast and willl be a world class centre of excellence for science and technology. In Wirral Waters, the £23m Maritime Knowledge Hub will be a centre for skills, innovation and decarbonisation. And further afield, we see the success of Warrington in becoming one of the region’s leading logistics hubs.
“Southport is already home to a number of thriving professional services and digital businesses and we will be looking to highlight some of them over the coming weeks and months. They offer us a platform on which to build something new for our town.
“We exist in the orbit of Liverpool and Manchester, the two economic powerhouses of the North West. We don’t seek to compete with the rest of the North West but become an important cog in the Northern Powerhouse eco-system.
“Not far from here, Formby is traditionally home to professionals and business people and their families. They enjoy the quality of life the coast offers but tend to look south towards Liverpool or east towards Manchester when looking for employment or investment opportunities. We need to create an offer, here, that will make them want to look north to Southport.
“Both at Governmental, regional and sub-regional levels, there has been much discussion about the post-COVID economy. About investment into the knowledge economy and, in particular, into low carbon technologies.Southport needs to be part of that conversation, it needs a seat at the city region table.
“As large companies re-evaluate their presence in city centres they will look to other locations for less expensive space in an attractive setting. Southport offers that, and so much more. We the place, the space, the quality of life. The potential of this town is huge. One of the main global cables for the world wide web comes ashore right here in Southport. We literally have the digital world at our feet. COVID-19 has been devastating but the post-pandemic landscape offers us a golden opportunity for reinvention. We must grab it.”