The Surprising Reality of Holidays On Pleasure Beach

A child's summer getaway through an adult's eyes.

by Emily Goddard
19 July 2018, 8:47am

Photos: Emily Goddard

Few kids can see beyond the draw of the coin pushers crammed in the neon-lit arcades and gimcrack souvenir shops that line Great Yarmouth's streets. Neither can those blinded by the innocence of youth be distracted from the donkeys on the seafront or the now seemingly-perilous rides of Pleasure Beach. It was every working class child's dream holiday – our Vegas by the sea.

With every end of the school year came the anticipation for the hours-long (but worth it) drive to Norfolk and the ceremonial cheer within the family car when we passed the sign that read "Nelson's county", before I even knew who Nelson was. It was the point that signalled the nearing of the end of the journey to the caravan park, where we would rekindle the friendships with kids we’d spent numerous summers with, because we could always guarantee the old gang would be there.

But it was passing an altogether different milestone – maturity – that meant the annual jaunt would become each time a little less exciting and a little more dismal. Naturally, the thrill of losing weeks of pocket money in the amusements and repetitively jumping on the snail ride in Joyland would have faded in time, but the gloom came more from observing and understanding the resoundingly obvious pockets of decay, poverty and socio-economic deprivation in the area.

While we were enjoying our holidays as a welcome escape from the banality of life in a small suburban town, we were blissfully unaware that the children living their formative years in Great Yarmouth could become numbers in some depressing statistics. The town has the smallest proportion in the country of over 16-year-olds with level-four qualifications – higher apprenticeships and degrees, for example – and GCSE achievement is below the national and county averages. Unemployment and the rate of claiming benefits are higher than the national average, while the life expectancy for both men and women is lower.

To juxtapose the cheerful family photos my parents had shot of our childhood holidays in Norfolk, I recently set out to capture a truer picture of the polarised culture and mood in Great Yarmouth. It's impossible not to look back nostalgically at those happy summers spent on the Norfolk coast, but now it's also impossible to ignore the reality.


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