Swarms of happy holidaymakers make their way to Southport every year and find the town is a hive of activity 

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the re-opening of one of Lancashire’s great cultural institutions, The Atkinson at Southport. The Lord Street venue now houses a library, museum, gallery and theatre as well as a café which attracts people from far and wide. 

The gallery has a fine art collection containing more than 3,500 pieces, as well as exhibition spaces which are currently showing images of Southport’s streets, art inspired by trees and an insightful collection of self-portraits by contemporary artists who have traditionally not had an equal voice. 

Great British Life: There's lots under the Atkinson roof, and there are now bees on the roofThere's lots under the Atkinson roof, and there are now bees on the roof (Image: Andrea Ku / b4biodiversity)

There’s a great programme of events and shows in the theatre – this month alone the line-up includes (among much more) ballet, folk music, comedy, a murder mystery and an adult pantomime. Oh yes it does. 

And the museum is a crowded treasure trove showcasing the town’s history, its sporting links, seafaring traditions and connections to Comic hero Dan Dare. There’s also a fascinating display of Egyptian artefacts, collected by 19th century Egyptologist Anne Goodison.  

It's an awful lot to have under one roof, but there’s even more on the roof. 

That’s where the Atkinson’s bees live, in a hive tended by beekeeper Andrea Ku. 

Great British Life: Beekeeper Andrea Ku and Andrea Martin from the Atkinson, on the roof with the beesBeekeeper Andrea Ku and Andrea Martin from the Atkinson, on the roof with the bees (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

‘Something like one in three mouthfuls of food we eat is food that was pollinated by bees and this area is known for its agriculture and produce, which is dependent on bees,’ she said. 

‘Bees are a really good indicator of a healthy environment but bumble bees and solitary bees are in decline and that was why a project was launched to house bees at libraries. 

‘Flowers and Southport go together so it makes sense that we should have bees. The queen bee who is here now is the daughter of the queen at Formby library.’ 

The bees moved onto the roof last summer after grant funding was secured from the Liverpool City Region Community Environment Fund. 

‘I have been beekeeping for about 12 years. I was doing a Masters in landscape architecture and was looking at the value of domestic gardens and what we can provide for wildlife. A beekeeper told me if I wanted to learn about gardens, I should learn about bees, so I did a beekeeping course,’ added Andrea, who has since taught more than 500 people how to keep bees. 

‘The bees here are kept ethically – the honey they make is theirs. If there is eventually any excess, we will look at using it in workshops to educate people, but that probably wouldn’t be for another couple of years away.’ 

But although Andrea and the staff at the Atkinson might adhere to ethical values, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the bees will. 

‘In autumn the male bees, the drones, have outlived their usefulness. Their only purpose is to mate with a virgin queen from another hive. The males eat a lot, don’t clean up after themselves and are a drain on the hive’s resources. Before winter the females will snap the males’ antennas, chew off their wings and push them out of the hive. They are disorientated and can’t fly and they often end up being beheaded and eaten by wasps. It’s like Game of Thrones – or Game of Drones, maybe.’ 

Atkinson staff volunteered to help plant pollinator-friendly flowers outside the venue and there are plans to plant more, and to turf at least part of the porch roof over the front door. 

We can all help bees and Andrea will host a workshop this month explaining the value of solitary bees and showing how to make homes for them. And she added: ‘Planting pollinator-friendly plants and not using weedkillers will help the bees, but the best thing we could all do is to think like a bee. 

‘Bees work hard for the good of the hive and if humans did more of that, we’d be in a better position to protect the environment.’ 

There can’t be many better places for a bee to live – Southport has a wealth of glorious green spaces and an unrivalled floral tradition. Next year will be 100 years since the first Southport Flower Show, although war and a pandemic mean there have been 91 shows to date. 

Great British Life: The team at Victoria ParkThe team at Victoria Park (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

And Alan Adams, the general manager of Victoria Park where the annual event is held, is already planning for the centenary show. In the meantime, though, he intends to make this year’s show the biggest and best to date. 

'We have lots of exciting plans,’ he said. ‘There will be lots of plants, show gardens, the grand marquee, floral art, the amateur growers’ competition, traders, celebrities, cookery, entertainment and so much more as well. It’s not all about flowers, we want to make sure it’s a day out for everyone, of all ages.’ 

Alan’s first involvement with the show came when he started volunteering in 2005 and he added: ‘The park is 34 acres and we rely on the profits from the show to survive; we have no other funding, no council tax comes us, although a lot of people think it does. 

‘We rent the park from the council and in return we look after it and stage events here. The rent is a basket of red roses, which is presented to the mayor of Sefton on the first day of the Flower Show every year. 

‘We have had to diversify and bring new events to the park and there are more things I’d like to develop. It would be great to have a music festival here similar to the Lytham Festival. That has grown enormously and become very successful and I can’t see why we couldn’t do that here as well. It’s the perfect venue. 

‘I love the Show and I love that it gives back to Southport. It’s worth about £4.5m to the local economy and over the course of a year with everything we do here, the park brings about £20m into the area.’ 


Great British Life: Crowds enjoying entertainment at last year's Southport Flower ShowCrowds enjoying entertainment at last year's Southport Flower Show (Image: Kirsty Thompson)
Park live

Some of the events planned for Victoria Park this summer  

June 2-4 Food Festival 

July 7-9 Enchanted Fields 

July 15-16 Family Festival 

July 21-23 Seaside Weekender 

August 17-20 Southport Flower Show 

Great British Life: Some of the traders at the new food hall in Southport MarketSome of the traders at the new food hall in Southport Market (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

Five things to do while you’re in Southport 

* Take a walk on the pier, it’s the second longest in the country and gives great views over the vast expanse of sand. Best enjoyed with an ice cream. 

* Visit the town’s other great green space, the Botanic Gardens where you’ll find colourful floral displays, paths, lakes and a rather good café. 

* Lord Street is famous for its shops, but these days, there are plenty more a little further inland, both big name stores and independent businesses. 

* There’s no chance of going hungry in Southport. There are scores of great cafes and the old market has become a food hall housing ten traders serving a great range of cuisines. 

* Make a weekend of it. There are lots of places to stay which will suit all tastes and budgets. See our reviews of The Bliss Hotel on page xxx.