View of a group of people on the shore of the beach
Travel

The Resurrection of the Iconic British Seaside

Popular in the decades before affordable commercial flights, COVID turned seaside resort towns into sought-after summer escapes again. Photographer Sophie Green caught it all.
Sophie Green
London, GB
June 7, 2021, 11:55am

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

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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.

Person holding a wad of tickets from an arcade
Child ferris wheel at an amusement park
view of a person under a multi-colored umbrella at the beach

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.

portrait of three people on the sand at the beach
group of four people walking on the seaside

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.

blow up funhouse for kids
child carrying a blow up tire on the seaside
someone jumping off a ledge into the water and a group of people watching

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.

person putting on lipgloss
view of two people, left person in a cast

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