This is part of a special series, We’re Reemerging. What Does the World Look Like Now?, which considers in real time how we cope while living through a historic time. It’s also in the latest VICE magazine. Subscribe here.
In the summer of 2020, the resuscitation of the British seaside began. When the first lockdown relaxed in the UK and people were allowed out their front doors again, I began to make regular trips to our charming and eccentric British seaside resorts to record the return to life. In the face of COVID-19, the beach has become a valuable place of fun, freedom, and community, but has remained a unique space where it is still possible to experience the idiosyncrasies and quirks that distinguish the British.
With the phenomenon of the “staycation,” individuals and families from every class, race, and religion united in the desire to escape their homes, get out in nature, and enjoy communal connectivity. Conversations could be shared and sea air could be breathed without the constraint of a face covering.
The Great British seaside flourished post World War II, with the allure of ice cream parlors, helter-skelter slides, and amusement arcades. Yet with the rise of affordable flights abroad, the landscapes of these seaside towns plunged into decline, and many now carry a complex socioeconomic narrative of underfunding, a high rate of unemployment, poor healthcare, and an aging population. The scenery looks, at times, dystopian—industrial backdrops, barbed wire fencing, and rotting fairground rides. The sand and stones are infested with cigarette butts.
But since the pandemic, many Brits have been heading to the beach for an accessible alternative to going abroad. These seaside towns could end up being gentrified by more affluent and dynamic holiday-makers, causing an evolution in the social, political, and cultural landscape. In opposition to such forces, the British seaside radiates a defiant strength. As the country reemerges, I hope that our underappreciated British seaside towns will thrive as places of escape, entertainment, and excess for all.
Follow Sophie Green on Instagram.