Greetings from Blackpool, divorce capital of Britain

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The Independent Online

Living by the sea might seem like the good life, but research has shown that it can be more than driftwood, seaweed and the odd jellyfish that end up on the rocks.

Living by the sea might seem like the good life, but research has shown that it can be more than driftwood, seaweed and the odd jellyfish that end up on the rocks.

Britain's seaside resorts are the divorce capitals of the country, with the highest proportions of divorcees living in such places as Blackpool, Torbay, Hastings and Eastbourne.

In Blackpool, the clear winner in the first geographic league table of divorce and separation, 17,578 people are either divorced or separated, amounting to more than one in six of the population.

Just why so many seaside marriages are ending up as so much driftwood is not clear, but one theory is that stress, especially among hoteliers and landlords, puts too much strain on relationships.

John Allen, based in Blackpool and a counsellor for Relate, said: "Twenty per cent of the people I see are hoteliers. It's a stressful life, leaving not much time for quality time with a partner."

But Professor Charles Lewis of Lancaster University, who lives not far from Blackpool, believes the availability of cheap off-season accommodation adds to the problem. "Seaside resorts only have their main population for three months of the year. Accommodation is very cheap in winter. There are also thousands of extremely cheap hotels. It is a housing issue. I'd be surprised if stress, the Basil Fawlty effect, was more than a blip."

An abundance of seasonal and part-time work also makes seaside towns attractive to those on low incomes, those perhaps newly single or claiming state benefits.

And the holiday atmosphere, while making it easier to meet people, can also stress existing relationships.

The league table, from the Office for National Statistics, was based on census data of 376 English and Welsh districts. Resorts dominate the top 10, with Blackpool closely followed by Hastings, Margate, Torquay, Penzance, Eastbourne, Portsmouth, Weymouth and Portland.

While the fictitious TV character Basil Fawlty might suggest that running a resort hotel can lead to marital disharmony, just how serious the problem is has only emerged with the figures showing that Blackpool and Hastings are the only areas of the country where more than 15 per cent of people are divorced or separated – double the rate for Harrow and Chiltern, which are bottom of the ONS league.

Only Corby (third) and Norwich (ninth) prevent the seaside resorts making a clean sweep of all top 10 slots.

"It's not all roses living by the seaside. The hotel business leaves no quality time for family. You often find wives getting up very early to do the breakfasts, while husbands stay working late at the bar," said Mr Allen.

Sue Orchard, a divorcee and former teacher, who moved to Blackpool to set up Sparkles Hotel, said: "I would say that around 50 per cent of the people I meetare divorced or separated, and about 30 per cent are single parents. There are 3,000 hoteliers and 2,000 accommodation providers in Blackpool and that's a very stressful position. You work 16 to 18 hours a day."

Professor Cary Cooper, of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, said the primary "unhappiness" factor might lie with people moving in to set up B&Bs and hotels working too hardand having to put up with strangers in their houses all the time. "Often people who go to these seaside towns have big expectations – it's often somewhere they went when they were kids and have a wonderful memory of. Theyfind their expectations exceed reality – there's a lot of drudgery."