Victorian values revive fortunes of seaside resort: Oliver Gillie looks at how local volunteers helped boost a depressed Cleveland town

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The Independent Online
JACKIE TAYLOR has written to the German embassy asking for a contribution towards the cost of building a new bandstand at Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Cleveland. In its Victorian heyday the town had five bandstands. One survived the town's decaying fortunes but it was destroyed by a German bomb in 1942.

Miss Taylor, a ceaseless campaigner for local causes, said: 'A new bandstand will cost pounds 26,000. I'm not asking the German embassy to pay for it all. I've written to a lot of other people as well.'

When the Saltburn youth hostel was closed last year, Miss Taylor sent a fax to the Queen and to Prince Charles. 'We asked for their support. It was so unnecessary to close the youth hostel. It wasn't losing money,' Miss Taylor said. 'I've faxed the Royals several times, but I always ring first to tell them it is coming. They are so nice about it.'

The force of Miss Taylor's discreet charm is felt from one end of this little town to the other. Together with other local activists she started the Saltburn 500 Club which raises money to pay for the Christmas lights, hanging flower baskets, period litter bins - and now a Victorian bandstand.

Saltburn has pulled itself up by its own efforts from a depressing slump during the 1970s. The town was built as a resort in the 1860s when the railway was extended to the coast. A pier and a cliff hoist were built and Italian gardens laid out. The town thrived as trains brought in the trippers.

In 1905 Saltburn reached the height of fashion when the world land-speed record was set in a race along the sands to Redcar. After that the town earned a steady living until the 1970s when people began to take cheap holidays in the sun.

Dennis Weller, tourism officer for the local Langbaurgh District Council, said: 'By the mid-Eighties there was nowhere you could get a cup of tea on a wet Wednesday in Saltburn. The major hotel was derelict. The town had gone downhill and there seemed to be no way of stopping it.'

But now Saltburn is being held up by the Association of District Councils as an example of how imaginative thinking can revive the fortunes of a seaside town. Worried by the decline of many resorts in England and Wales, the association has produced a report examining how they may learn from each other.

Saltburn has a population of only 6,500 and few resources but it has managed to regain its name as a resort with a relatively small expenditure. The town decided to return to its Victorian roots, removed the 1950s lamp-posts and street furniture and replaced them with Victorian designs.

The turning point came when the town launched a Victorian festival which attracted 40,000 visitors. The festival was helped by the 500 Club which raised the money to buy Victorian pattern books to help local women make their own dresses. 'We can turn out 20 or 30 people in Victorian dress any time now. We call them rent-a-crowd,' Mr Weller said.

The 500 Club has also paid for hanging baskets of flowers which have helped the town to win the Britain in Bloom award.

Reg Blacklock, 58, a retired teacher, has revived the miniature railway which became derelict in the 1980s. 'It took a year to get it going again - all done by volunteers,' Mr Blacklock said. 'Now the railway earns pounds 4,000 to pounds 5,000 in a year and it is all ploughed back.' Other attractions are a museum of smuggling and a drama festival.

Nick Noble used to be a lifeguard in a local swimming baths. Now he runs a shop on the seafront selling and hiring out surfing equipment.

'We have some of the best waves in the country,' he said. 'The coast faces North-east here and so we get large waves coming down from the Arctic ocean. And the prevailing offshore wind gives the waves the hollow shape that surfers are looking for. Saltburn is known to surfers all over England now.'

(Photographs omitted)