I think before I go any further, I should state that I have always loved Eastbourne and I still do; my wife and I go there for a few days break at least three or four times a year. In fact, we have just returned from an enjoyable two-night stay at The Grand Hotel, a place we have come to know very well over the years.
For me, growing up in Plumstead, South London; Eastbourne evoked a genteel, calm atmosphere. It always looked, felt, and indeed sounded, totally different to the Kent coast resorts of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs where I used to go every summer on daytrips with my family. It was always great fun to go to these resorts with their sandy beaches, amusement arcades, rock shops and cafes but while Eastbourne also had many of these attractions, it just felt different, less hectic, more sophisticated I suppose. Always popular with the older generation – ‘God’s waiting room’ as it has often been disrespectfully described – Eastbourne was just refreshingly different.
Sadly though – and it is something I have noticed increasingly over the past couple of years – Eastbourne, and its population demographic, has changed, dramatically. The Town Centre is now somewhere you would only go to if you have to, as it now leaves much to be desired. There are more closed, boarded up shops every time we go there, and the two large empty retail buildings left by the closure of Debenhams and TJ Hughes – with the associated graffiti you get on empty buildings – all adds to the air of abandonment.
We always have a relaxing time at The Grand Hotel, and we love our walks along the sea front. The town gardens are always immaculately kept, the Art Deco Devonshire Park theatre is always a delight to visit, as is the Towner Art Gallery and we enjoy our dinners at the Locanda del Duca, Italian restaurant and having a relaxing drink in the Hydro Hotel.
However, as much as we love the town, the inescapable fact is that Eastbourne is now in serious decline. Some of the hotels on the sea front are either closed or in major need of renovation, a couple of hotels are now housing migrants and the derelict site of the Claremont Hotel fire in 2020 has not been touched. As for the Pier, well I don’t really know what to say. It has got more empty units on it than open ones. The amusement arcade at the end of the Pier blasts out inappropriately loud, intrusive music making it impossible to sit quietly and take in the sea views and, just to finish off the tacky look and feel of the Pier, its roofs, lamp-posts, assorted animal figures dotted around the place and the iconic dome of the ‘Camera Obscura,’ are all painted in garish gold paint!
Finally, there is undoubtedly a major issue with vagrancy in the town centre and sadly, many of these vagrants are clearly suffering from alcohol and/or drug-related mental health problems, as the unmistakable smell of cannabis often pervades the air – even on the sea front after fighting off the valiant attempt by the Jasmine plants to mask its pungent aroma.
So, what can be done? Sadly, I don’t have a clever answer as to how to fix the problems the town is experiencing other than stating the obvious that the town needs serious investment and a major re-building and renovation programme and of course, more funding given to local mental health trusts and charities; but obviously this is easier said than done.
That said, the potential Eastbourne has is huge. With the annual Eastbourne International Tennis Tournament due to start on the 24th June and the Eastbourne Air Show starting on the 17th August, the town will once again be buzzing and will attract thousands of visitors, bringing energy, excitement and importantly, much needed revenue to the area.
I wish Eastbourne all the luck in the world.