Telling people you’re from Blackpool often provokes some sort of reaction. People usually laugh and recount some outrageous experience they once had there, or, if they’re a bit of an arsehole, they ridicule you.
In a part-time job I had when I was at university one of my managers referred to me as “Blackpool” for the first few months of my employment. Now, working in a largely middle-class industry, when I tell people I’m from Blackpool they usually say: “Oh, are you from Lytham?”
When I respond and tell them that actually I grew up in one of the town’s poorer districts they go quiet. When I recently told someone the area of Blackpool I grew up in they made the noise “urgh” – to my face.
Blackpool’s reputation has taken a battering over the past few years by some of the worst statistics on life expectancy, smoking and antidepressant use in the country. For years it’s just been one gloomy headline after another, so last week’s news that the town has been granted £4 million in Lottery Heritage funding – the final piece in its funding jigsaw to open a new museum – was music to my ears.
Scheduled to open in March 2021, Show Town: The Museum of Fun and Entertainment will be situated on the promenade and is the culmination of years of lobbying by locals.
The museum will exhibit treasures from Blackpool’s vibrant past along with the UK’s first permanent displays on circus, magic, variety and ballroom dance in a public museum.
Museums are invaluable assets to communities. They have the power to instil a sense of pride in the places in which we live, they’re there when we’re short of cash and have a few hours to kill, they can connect with the wider community and encourage public participation in the arts. They are sanctuaries of information and learning.
Last year I interviewed Idle Women, an arts collective working in some of the most deprived areas of the North West for Big Issue North. During the interview co-founder Cis O’Boyle made a point that really stayed with me. O’Boyle said the Arts Council describes impoverished areas as places with “low arts engagement”, but she has found the opposite. People from deprived areas want to engage with the arts. The problem is there is often little provision.
Anyone who thinks only middle-class people are interested in culture and history is simply wrong. People from all backgrounds have a hunger to learn and a stake in their communities’ past and future. Everyone should have installations and exhibitions that shine a light on their local history on their doorstep.
For Blackpool, a museum celebrating the town’s role in popular culture has been a long time coming. After all, Blackpool has been the place people have flocked to for fun for almost two centuries. It is the home of the Golden Mile, contactless donkey rides, Mooky the clown and historic piers. It is where generations of people from across the country have sought refuge from their daily lives, from wealthy Victorians looking to cure their ailments to mill workers crammed onto steam trains during Wakes Week.
Blackpool’s new museum is a chance to set the record straight and celebrate a town that has meant so much to so many. For a resort that gets more than its fair share of bad press, there’s plenty for us to shout about.