Reporter Greg Lambert speaks to Wayne Hemingway MBE - the prodigal son who is helping turn Morecambe’s fortunes around.
“It would be great to work in Morecambe but it’s never materialised.
“I’ve been in touch with Lancaster City Council over the years but there’s been no interest at all. “Maybe it will happen one day.” (Wayne Hemingway, The Visitor, January 2013)
A lot has changed in the past three years.
Since making this lament about his ‘lost career’ in Morecambe, Wayne Hemingway has helped bring a new optimism to the town of his birth.
Later in 2013, the council and Wayne began talking. Since then, the top designer has masterminded three successful vintage festivals pulling tens of thousands to Morecambe.
He has inspired young professionals and creative people to get involved in the resort’s regeneration.
And with his firm Hemingway Design set to work on a radical upgrade of the Arndale Centre, the relationship between the TV personality and Morecambe has never been stronger.
The Morecambe-born founder of the Red Or Dead fashion label will soon begin a pioneering redesign of the flagging Arndale, alongside its new owners, NewRiver Retail.
Paul Wright, director of NewRiver, raised eyebrows last week when he said “Morecambe doesn’t need more shops” and instead vowed the Arndale would be transformed into an eye-catching ‘destination building’ people would want to visit “regardless of shops”.
Hemingway, founder of the Red or Dead fashion label, believes that Morecambe needs to make this kind of bold statement of intent.
“You will always get people who don’t like risks, but life’s about risk,” he said.
“We work on another seaside resort, Boscombe near Bournemouth.
“It had a terrible reputation for substance abuse, multi-occupancy flats, similar to the West End of Morecambe, and the beach became a bit of a no-go area.
“Then they came up with the idea for a ‘surf reef’.”
In 2009 Europe’s first artificial surf reef opened in the Dorset resort.
Costing £3.2m, it aimed to attract 10,000 surfers to Boscombe and turn it into a surfer’s paradise.
While the reef itself has been dogged with controversy and safety issues, it was hailed as the catalyst for the regeneration of Boscombe.
“All sorts started happening; quality shops opened, a new boutique hotel.
“All the excitement around it created other things.
“It’s what happens when you do something that’s brave and interesting and against the norm - the world sits up and takes notice.
“Sometimes you’ve got to try things that are designed to fail but it doesn’t matter because they bring positive attention.”
Wayne is seeing the same results in Margate, Kent, where Hemingway Design helped revamp and reopen the rundown Dreamland fairground as a groundbreaking £18m ‘heritage theme park’ earlier this year.
Margate was also a declining seaside resort but has turned its fortunes around.
A new £17.5m Turner Contemporary Art Gallery opened in 2011 and Esquire magazine recently described the town as “the new hipster’s paradise”.
“Margate is regenerating itself and Dreamland is the catalyst,” said Wayne.
“And not all the money has to come from the council. A large chunk came from English Heritage. “Margate mobilised the troops in a way I’ve not seen before. They had a BID (Business Improvement District) manager, somebody to deal with English Heritage, professional people who care about the town.
“Now Margate has started to attract some really creative and forward thinking people.
“Too many seaside towns look like they are dying because there aren’t enough young people, creating things and making things happen.”
Things are starting to happen in Morecambe too as local businesses and artists turn their own bold visions into reality.
The £1m renovation of the Morecambe Hotel into a superb pub-bistro, the Lothersdale Hotel’s trendy Aspect bar, the chic new Temperance vintage barber shop on the seafront and the impending Victoria Street art project spring to mind.
Morecambe’s own BID, to generate extra cash from local businesses towards regeneration, is also on the cards.
There is a buzz of positivity in the town there hasn’t been since the renewed Midland hotel triggered similar energy in pre-recession 2008.
And after being frustratingly ignored for so long, Wayne Hemingway is delighted to have played his part.
Now he wants to keep on contributing to Morecambe’s rebirth, with a fourth Vintage-by-the-Sea planned for 2016.
“We need lots of other people to help us with Vintage-by-the-Sea and we’re always open to suggestions,” he said.
“We’ll aim for the same standards next year but Morecambe needs another festival of significance too, not vintage, on a completely different subject matter. And it has to be done brilliantly, nothing short of the levels we go for.
“Somebody will come up with it. At least people know now, that people will come to Morecambe in numbers.”