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Regenerating Working Class Entertainment in Blackpool

Award Information

AHRC ref: AH/E006981/1
Discipline: Visual Arts
Funding opportunity: Knowledge Transfer Fellowship
Areas of Impact: Communities; Tourism; Culture and heritage; Regeneration
Lead RO: University of Sheffield
Region: West Midlands

Research on the history of working class recreation, by Professor Vanessa Toulmin at the University of Sheffield, has enhanced Blackpool’s tourism and heritage industries and helped raise £40 million to save Blackpool’s Winter Gardens and rejuvenate the town’s cultural and economic scene. The research led to an annual event worth £3 million, increased visitor numbers and contributed to the renovation of historic sites estimated to deliver £223 million to the local economy.

Following on from two AHRC-funded projects, ‘Admission All Classes’ and ‘Analysing the Mitchell and Kenyon Collection’, Professor Toulmin’s research celebrates the history of working class holiday-makers, their use of leisurely resorts and the ways in which recreational activities shaped and consolidated a shared sense of community and identity, as represented in twentieth century cinema. The relationship established with Blackpool Council during ‘Admission All Classes’ resulted in Professor Toulmin’s publication of a commemorative volume on the history of Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, now revised in its 2nd Edition, to reflect the £4 million part restoration of the building. The work was used by Blackpool Council to lobby Parliament and funding bodies, leading to £40 million being secured from the European Regional Development Fund, Homes and Communities Agency and the North West Development Agency (NWDA). This helped Blackpool Council to purchase both the Winter Gardens and Blackpool Tower, saving a crucial part of Blackpool’s architectural and cultural heritage and securing vital, and profitable, entertainment venues for the town.

Moreover, as part of the projects, Blackpool’s key historic buildings, including the Grand Theatre, the North Pier, the Winter Gardens, and the Tower Circus, played host between 2007 and 2008 to a series of high profile events and themed weekends which attracted almost 14,000 visitors. To develop this audience, in collaboration with ‘Visit Blackpool’ & NWDA, Professor Toulmin founded ‘Showzam’, an annual eleven day festival of Circus Magic and New Variety in 2008, bringing more than 150 performers from over twenty different countries to Blackpool. In 2013, the programme attracted 30,000 visitors and since 2009, the circus created an associated gross spending of over £6 million. Showzam received a wide range of media coverage: it was featured on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek and Making History, Good Morning America and in seven broadcasts on Radio Lancashire. As a result of its success, Professor Toulmin further secured £30,000 from NWDA to curate a ten-day programme on the North West’s entertainment heritage on film as well as grants of £150,000 plus from the Arts Council in 2011 and 2012.

Further impact includes the regeneration of public space facilities in Blackpool for entertainment purposes, securing funding to acquire and house a significant entertainment archive, providing supporting evidence for a successful HLF bid £1.24 million for Museum of Blackpool and restoring Butlins Bognor Regis fairground as a result of Professor Toulmin’s consultancy.

For more information on the project visit:

Gateway to Research Project Link: 'Admission All Classes': Entertainment for the Masses 1850 – 1950, Jun 07 - Dec 08

Associated image: Alex Liivet on Flickr by CC2.0