How Scarborough shaped my life and what the resort means to my family – David Sillito

The BBC’s Arts Correspondent, David Sillito, returns to his hometown as part of a BBC News week of reporting from Scarborough.

THE ‘No Vacancies’ signs along Queens Parade say it all. In this strange post-lockdown summer, Scarborough is having a moment.

A walk from the grandeur of the Esplanade, along the foreshore and around to Peaseholm Park is a journey past crowded cafes, busy beaches and my own family history.

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Watching children with buckets and spades dodging the traffic on the car clogged foreshore, I am always reminded of my grandfather’s plan in the 1930s to make the seafront a child-friendly, car-free space. The council was not impressed.

What will be the post-pandemic future of resorts like Scarborough?

My great-grandfather worked at Forge Valley railway station, my mum ran a guesthouse overlooking Peasholm Park and my grandfather was Deputy Borough Engineer at a time when his boss, Harry Smith was transforming the town in to an oasis of fresh air, gardens and entertainment.

One of my grandfather’s assignments was a trip to Germany to look at a miniature railway with a plan to build one that was bigger and better. It is still there, largely unchanged.

He also worked on the original Open Air Theatre which has, in recent years, welcomed Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue.

Scarborough was built to be attractive.

The BBC’s Arts Correspondent, David Sillito returns to his hometown as part of a BBC News week of reporting from Scarborough.

Ninety years later the story has changed. I am forever grateful to the town. My background, single parent, free school meals, was no hindrance in an era of excellent schools and free university education.

But a teenager today in similar circumstances faces a much tougher battle. Scarborough is now near the bottom when it comes to social mobility.

One of the reasons is a shortage of teaching talent.

During filming, I went back to my old school, Scalby Comprehensive. Little has changed, it is recognisably the same successful school it was in my day but even Scalby has had its troubles.

What is the psot-lockdown future of resorts like Scarborough?

A few years ago it was in ‘special measures’.

A persistent problem across the town’s schools is recruitment. Scarborough is blessed with natural beauty but not enough teachers want to move here, the perception of the town is one of ‘coastal decline.’

It is easy to spot the evidence. The sites where the Futurist Theatre, the North Bay swimming pool and Mr Marvel’s Funpark once stood say it all.

The office block that replaced the Pavilion Hotel opposite the railway station is a frequently cited symbol of lost elegance.

Pupils at Scalby School - former pupils include the BBC's David Sillito.

But if you walk up to what is claimed to be the longest railway bench in the world, there are behind it in the old waiting rooms signs of revival.

Artists have this week moved in. One, a ceramicist, Lesley Warner has arrived from London. She is also part of a group of early morning sea swimmers, many of whom are also recent arrivals attracted by a working day that can begin with a dip alongside the dolphins.

In an age of ‘working from home’, ‘working in beauty’ has its appeal. A quick chat with an estate agent reveals just how many people are having similar thoughts.

Another of the artists, Kane Cunningham, has organised a festival, Big Ideas By the Sea. When you arrive at the railway station, there are this week new windows celebrating the poet Wilfred Owen.

A local writer, Paul Elsam, has been researching Owen’s writing during a stay at the Clifton Hotel.

The archaeologist, John Oxley, is staging a dig in the old town to uncover Scarborough’s medieval past. The new Alpamare Waterpark is being blessed with good weather.

It is easy to mourn but as I travelled around the town working on this week’s special reports for BBC News, I was drawn again and again to something that is rather harder to film.

People were talking more about the future than the past. There are still problems, but on the busy streets of a post-lockdown summer, it has made me wonder if this was the beginning of a new story.

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