How iconic hotel got by with a little help from its Friends
Sue Thompson was the driving force behind setting up a friends group for Morecambe's Midland hotel in 1998.
Sue, 63, from Heysham, was born and bred in the area and saw the hotel’s demise over the years. She became chairman of Friends of The Midland. She always regarded The Midland as one of the most important buildings in Morecambe and felt it was key to the town’s regeneration.
The Midland this month celebrates its 10th anniversary since reopening but Sue remembers only too well its lean years.
Sue said: “It was at the end of 1998.early 1999, that I put an advert in The Visitor asking for people to come forward to become members of the friends group. I asked if there were any like-minded people to come and sit round the table to see if we could save The Midland, which was derelict, as The Midland is a fabulous example of a Grade 2 star listed building and I don’t want people to ever forget that.
“That is so important. If the Friends of The Midland had been able to buy the hotel we would have made it for the community and would have involved the community in it.
“It’s about making the most of the assets you’ve got and using them.”
In 2000, The Midland closed after the kitchen was condemned by environmental health, and then the hotel’s heating system broke down.
There was brief hope for Morecambe’s White Hope the following year when rich businessmen Jared Brook and Lincoln Fraser bought the hotel and revealed ambitious refurbishment plans.
But by 2002 Brook and Fraser were under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office as their company collapsed owing £150m.
Sue said: “We knew there was no future for them. I thought they would be a saviour but they went bust. We were worried. We started working with John Miller from English Heritage Trust but we couldn’t get charitable status. We started on a feasability study and got Nick Gillibrand, a conservation architect, to look at plans for the building.We were looking at changing some of the hotel into flats and having a cafe and restaurant donwstairs.
“However, Urban Splash bought the building in January 2003. I became so emotioonally attached to the building, I wanted to do it for Morecambe. If.I’d have had the money I would have done it myself. There is a saying in our house that when the lottery win comes I would be straight out that door amd buying that hotel and putting it in a trust for Morecambe.”
Urban Splash planned a full restoration combining the hotel’s original art deco features with a modern makeover to attract the 21st century customer. Restoration work began in June 2005 and then in June 2008, the Midland finally reopened looking as good as ever.
There were early teething troubles and guest complaints as Urban Splash proved to be far better at designing than they were at running a hotel.
But today, now owned by the Lancaster Foundation charity and run day-to-day by English Lakes Hotels, the Midland is back to its very best and in great demand.
Sue said: “The Friends have dissipated now but we have those memories and those links. Urban Splash wanted to knock down the two sets of gate pillars but you have to have things you can say ‘look at what we’ve got’. We always felt insignificant compared to Urban Splash.
“We got all our members to write letters to The Visitor objecting to Urban Splash building flats next to The Midland.
“They would have just maimed the front. Urban Splash just hated us going against them. It’s about makiing the most of the assets you’ve got and using them. Urban Splash used The Midland to regenerate the town. It was a feather in their cap.”
Looking to the future, Sue thinks the planned Eden Project on the former Dome site will be great for the town and thinks Frontierland is ripe for development.
She said: “I have mixed feelings about The Eden Project. Where is the £60million coming from? Yes, its going to be there and in people’s faces. It is such a special bay we have and I hope The Eden Project is not just pie in the sky. It’s all down to money, it’s sustainability within the town and you have to create jobs but i think it’s doable. It’s a lifeline and people keep giving Morecambe lifelines and it gives people hope but then someone else cuts that lifeline.
“As for Frontierland, everyone has pulled out of it. I wanted Urban Splash to be given the Frontierland site to build on, instead of next to The Midland. Let them do their magic, they turn it round.
“I can see why people are moving here and moving businesses here
“There couldn’t be a more deserving place for Morecambe than this hotel. I love Morecambe.”
– everybody loves it.”