Why everyone should love Clacton

Clacton Pier entrance

Clacton Pier entrance - Credit: Archant

Clacton is most famous as being a traditional British seaside resort, but like all of these seaside resorts, changing times have led to changes in the towns themselves. Petra Hornsby looks at the changing face of Clacton and what the future holds for this town

Clacton beach

Clacton beach - Credit: Archant

It is fair to say the traditional British seaside resort isn’t what it used to be. The downturn in popularity — largely due to the competition of cheap holidays abroad — has left many towns struggling to plug the gap caused by the absence of the many holiday makers that once flooded these coastal resorts.

So it falls upon these coastal towns to reinvent themselves to some degree, and this is the challenge in Clacton. Thankfully, there are already many things to celebrate about Clacton, including examples of good community, lively entertainment and thriving business, all ensuring there is still plenty of good old seaside fun to enjoy here.

Clacton wouldn’t be Clacton without its pier – the building of which back in 1871 heralded the beginning of this new holiday destination for many. Initially just 160 yards long, it was thought that it would be used simply as a landing platform for steam ships delivering goods and produce.

Clacton Pier

Clacton Pier - Credit: Archant

However, the Victorians were fast discovering the joys of days by the sea and pier entertainment was something of a lure, and soon Clacton was considered a top destination. In 1893, the pier was lengthened and a theatre was built, along with a pavilion, later known as the Jolly Roger. Ernest Kingsman bought the pier in 1922 and set about transforming it into a major attraction – something that would serve tourists well over the coming years including those holidaying at the nearby Butlins Holiday Camp. Swimming pools, a rollercoaster, a children’s theatre and a casino were all added to the construction and Clacton’s popularity enticed people from across the country.

After several subsequent owners, the pier is now owned by The Clacton Pier Company which is working hard to restore its former charm with many attractive features. The Casino Royal Amusement Hall has updated slot machines and new equipment, while the traditional helter-skelter, dodgems, seaquarium and Stella’s Revenge rollercoaster are a great lure for visitors. A choice of refreshments – featuring many cafes and bars – are available and there is also a ten pin bowling lounge.

Clacton town centre

Clacton town centre - Credit: Archant

The Clacton Factory Outlet shopping village has been popular with locals and visitors from across the region since it opened. With several key names from the high street, it offers a ‘customer-friendly’ experience as well as up to 60% off prices on many items. With ample parking, facilities for mother and baby and the disabled – including free wheelchair loan – as well as places to eat and drink, it makes for a great location to indulge in a touch of retail therapy. There are also plans in the pipeline for a £10 million redevelopment of the site to include a multi-reel cinema, which is sure to bring even more visitors to the town.

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Every year in August, the heart of what is Clacton beats a little stronger when it holds the much-loved and admired Clacton Air Show. Annually, around 250,000 people gather on the beaches and greensward to watch the thrill of the air acrobatics as well as spotting vintage craft that remind us of their crucial role in wartime combat. Entry is free, but donations are always most welcome and money is collected in buckets over the two-day event. Stands, displays and refreshment concessions are also available to keep everyone fed, watered and happy with Radio Airshow keeping onlookers updated, announcing events and notifying the public of displays taking place.

Clacton arcades

Clacton arcades - Credit: Archant

Ahead of the Air Show is Clacton Carnival week, which this year takes place from August 12 to 20 and has Storytime as its theme. The carnival procession is held on the Saturday and includes appearances from the Carnival Queen and Princess, and proceeds from along the seafront to Victoria Road. For the rest of the week other events take place across the town including the Clacton Half Marathon on Sunday, August 20. The Clacton Carnival was founded in 1953 and – along with the air show — is another example of the town successfully holding on to its traditions, largely thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of the organisers and volunteers.

There are two theatres serving the town (the West Cliff and the Princes Theatre) that both put on varied programmes throughout the year to tempt those with a penchant for live entertainment through comedy, music and drama.

The Office for National Statistics last year reported that Tendring, the district region for Clacton, was the top destination for people who want to move, giving a much-needed boost to the county’s coastal towns and other projects designed to stimulate investment, migration and growth.

One resident who has lived in Clacton for six years now, Hannah Meade, works as a veterinary nurse and describes what living there is like.

‘People will make negative comments about anywhere, but Clacton to me is a place where I can shop easily for the things that I need on a daily basis and there are also shops to buy clothes, gifts and so on – it offers a good shopping experience,’ says Hannah. ‘I have young children and they love going to the pier to enjoy the amusements, although we see it as a treat even though we live here, as we don’t go too often. In the summer, we are so lucky to have the lovely sandy beaches – kids of all ages never get tired of that! In the winter too, one of our favourite things is to walk along the seafront and then get some fish and chips. We all enjoy that, including the dog! The children go to school locally and we are very happy with the progress they are making there.’

There is a good choice of primary schools in Clacton and the surrounding area and two secondary schools – the Clacton County High School and Clacton Coastal Academy, both of which were rated as ‘good’ in their most recent Ofsted reports.

Clearly Clacton is a town working hard to maintain both its traditional character and create a new spirit and energy, something Nigel Brown, Tendring District Council’s communications manager, affirms.

He says: ‘The council is always working with its private sector partners to ensure that Clacton remains a great place for people to live, work and visit. We continually strive for improvements on the seafront, along the coast, in the town centre and other areas of Clacton, and indeed Tendring as a whole.

‘Last year a £36 million Coast Protection Scheme was completed which created new beaches — not affected by the tide — in Clacton and Holland on Sea, and these have proved a popular attraction.

Tourism is worth £365 million a year to the Tendring economy, that’s £1 million a day and tourist-related employment amounts to 16.2% of all employment in the area. This is all up on previous figures and proves that Tendring and Clacton are still very popular locations for many people.

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