Old miners dig in against tide of change in seaside resorts

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The Independent Online
OH FOR Bridlington, its sea, sun and South Prom, for years an annual salvation from industrial grime for South Yorkshire's workers. When the pits started closing, many an ex-miner invested his Coal Board pay-out in a guest house of his own there.

Unfortunately, the curiously high proportion of ex-miners who have become B&B landlords in Bridlington has created an awkward problem for the Yorkshire Tourist Board.

It admits it is finding some of them difficult to convert into the thrusting 21st-century types it needs. Many of its B&Bs, says the board, are unwelcoming, unimaginative and dragging northern towns into a "downward spiral".

The board is so concerned that it is now shifting its focus to seaside towns and is bidding for up to pounds 1m from the new English Tourism Council to pull places such as Bridlington up to scratch.

Its tactics, revealed in a new tourism strategy for Yorkshire, were justified by a damning Consumers' Association Which! report last week which saw the same "spiral of decline" in seaside resorts across the UK. "We do still like to be beside the seaside," it concluded. "But it's much more likely to be ... the Mediterranean."

David Andrews, the board's chief executive, said: "There are a lot of ex-miners from places like Rotherham who move to Bridlington to open guest houses. Their children don't want to take over so they don't re- invest and just keep places ticking over. They're just reaching the same market, which is getting older and dying out.

"It can tend to be the wife who looks after people," he said. "The husband is in the background. His attitude could not be as warm and welcoming as required."

B&B customers will pay more, insisted Mr Andrews, if it means old practices such as cramming narrow, 2ft 6in beds into houses to increase revenue potential are stopped.

The board wants something of a revolution; more B&Bs offering access to leisure or golf clubs and more en-suite facilities. It is examining "apart-hotels" (self-catered accom- modation with room service and cleaning thrown in) and bond schemes, which allow the seaside tourist to change destination from year to year (the British market is suspicious of anything labelled "timeshare".)

English Tourism Council cash would be used to subsidise improvements and promote the merits of guest houses to new markets.

But many miners-turned-landlords are sceptical. Jack Bath, who runs the 15-room Royal Hotel, bristled at a hint of interference. "You can't tell people what to do or give advice," he said. "I think you've either got it or you haven't to succeed here."

Mr Bath, a miner at Dodsworth Colliery, Barnsley, for 26 years before moving out 16 years ago, said: "I wore myself out down the pit and had to get out. I've settled very well in Bridlington but there are many who haven't. Finance has a lot to do with it and the right personality has too."

Another landlord, Steve Taylor, 67, who worked at Worksop pit, Nottinghamshire, for seven years, said the warmth of mining communities created good landlords. "I think I've been successful because I come from a mining community."