CALLS have been made to restore Weymouth to its status as a leading tourist resort.
Improved infrastructure and a more ‘aggressive’ tourism strategy could be the keys to improving the area Following a backlash over an article in the Observer newspaper suggesting that Weymouth was a place ‘beset by low wages, lack of transportation, isolation and poverty of aspiration’, experts have spoken out about what could be done to improve the area.
Tourism bosses and councillors believe that despite a failure to build a proper Olympic legacy the area still has great potential.
The council’s decision to close the tourist information centre also drew a backlash from residents and visitors.
The borough has seen more and more being taken on by volunteers and community groups in recent years including Weymouth Pavilion, Weymouth Carnival and the Kite Festival.
Science journalist Michael Hanlon is one of the people behind Jurassica, an Eden Project-style £85 million subterranean geology park attraction proposed for Portland.
Mr Hanlon said: “The legacy of the Olympics has been disappointing to say the least although the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy is brilliant.”
He said that an improved infrastructure, including better cycle routes and an improved phone signal would help enhance the area. He said it was about ‘bringing affluence.’ Mr Hanlon said: “It’s not enough to have a few attractions. Both the county and borough have to have a strategy for tourism that’s more aggressive.
“Areas don’t regenerate by themselves – they need help. I think Weymouth and Portland in particular needs help at the moment.”
He added: “We should not despair. I don’t think this area is anything like as catastrophically bad as has been suggested.”
The area is not a cultural ‘wasteland,’ as it had been described in the article, but there are real problems and it did needs help, Mr Hanlon said.
Weymouth and Portland Borough Council tourism and culture spokesman Rachel Rogers said the article raised some very real issues.
Cllr Rogers said earlier this month councillors agreed to introduce a Business Rate Reoccupation Relief to encourage businesses to move into premises that have been empty for more than 12 months in the borough.
She said: “As far as tourism is concerned we need to be broadening the scope of our offering. We need to be building on the summer season.”
She added: “We need to be developing activity-based tourism and looking at developing more links to do with our extensive history and culture, so we can develop more tourism in the shoulder months.”
She added they were looking to improve both the quality and diversity of what was on offer. The borough council is already working with the county council on a joined-up tourism strategy.
Cllr Rogers said that cultural aspects were something that needed to be looked at but that it is not the role of the council to put on events.
She said it is the council’s role to facilitate and join up people that want to put on events.
She said: “The council’s role is not to put on festivals – councils are there to provide support and guidance.”
The Olympics had provided a legacy in terms of the new road to Dorchester, new cycle routes and other infrastructure but Cllr Rogers said that things like the park and ride could have been better used and capitalised on.
She added that there had been a lot of national funding for cultural events in the borough in 2012 but that it didn’t become ‘ingrained in the psyche’ because it was limited to one year.
She said cultural events were something that needed looking at.
Educational fight to create aspiration among young people
THE article in the Observer picked up on comments by the chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw that ‘aspiration and achievement was now a major issue in seaside towns’.
Cllr Rachel Rogers said that lack of opportunity should not be confused with lack of ambition.
She said businesses should be encouraged to come to the borough and that should be tied to the ambition of young people ‘so they don’t feel they have to go elsewhere and they can have a successful career in the area they were born’.
Budmouth Centre of Excellence at Budmouth College is designed to prepare students for the workplace and gives them the chance to work with business representatives on a variety of projects.
The blueprint has been so successful that there are more centres currently being built in Dorset and the hope is to create a case to put to the government to encourage them to do a national roll-out.
Marcel Ciantar, from CEIL, said the ethos of the centre is about raising aspirations and creating self-belief.
He said: “We get the students to believe in themselves. That links to aspiration. You can’t have aspiration if you don’t believe in yourself.”
He added that in his opinion it wasn’t a bad thing if students went out into the world away from where they had grown up, as they would then bring their experiences and expertise back to their home area.
He said: “They have to be inspired by outside the area in order to come back with renewed energy.
“That’s why you go away – to be inspired. If you want to change the locality you need to think outside the box and get inspired from elsewhere in order to bring back energy.”
He added: “High aspiration comes from influence; influence comes from experiencing a taste of success.
“That will never leave you, it’s there for life.”
BID to create off-season footfall
THE BID is looking to increase footfall into the town, especially in the out of season period.
Joint chairman of the Weymouth BID Alistair Clarke, pictured, said its role is to encourage people into the town and it is looking at ‘all sorts of angles’ to improve it.
This summer there is an Alice in Wonderland trail though the town for families and building on the success of the Olympic Ambassadors, a new welcoming face to the town will be launched next month.
The Weymouth Wayfarers are volunteers who will help tourists get around the town, providing help and information.
Dressed in the BID’s characteristic orange, the Wayfarers will be a visible presence in the town, Mr Clarke said.
The BID is looking to create a marketing strategy for the town to promote it and encourage people to visit in the months from October to December, he added.
Mr Clarke added that it would be putting on events like the Maritime Festival in September and the Victorian Show Night in December to boost trade.
He said: “We are looking at all sorts of angles to improve the town.”
He added that the BID is coming to the end of the first year of its five-year project and already lots of events are happening.
He added: “That’s what the BID’s about, getting people into the town.”
Top names planned for Pavilion
THE Pavilion will mark its first birthday under new management next month.
General manager Phil Say said it is doing well after its first year and said those in charge are hoping they can build on that success.
The Pavilion is run by a mixture of full and part-time staff and volunteers.
Mr Say said they were trying to put on ‘something for everyone’ from acts like the Moscow State Ballet, community groups, dog shows, Eric Knowles from the Antiques Roadshow and comedians like Jim Davidson, to events for a potentially younger audience like band, Reel Big Fish, Soil and comedian Russell Kane.
Last year’s panto production, Cinderella, which ran into early January, saw a 25 per cent increase in ticket sales on each of the last 15 years.
Mr Say said: “Visitors and residents alike want to see us succeed and people are telling us we are doing what they hoped we’d do and more.”
He said in five years’ time they wanted to be pulling in top name comics and West End productions, as well as retaining their links to community events, and urged people to support the shows.