Skegness has a fresh opportunity to reinvent itself in what is likely to be a bumper season for the staycation market. One of the families championing the town’s success is the Mellors family, the fourth generation of which is James Mellors Jnr, who has been heavily involved with purchasing and renovating Skegness Pier to reboot it as a modern family attraction…
When it comes to getting away from it all, something has to give. We’re told that cutting carbon is important for the future of the planet. But that’s diametrically opposed to the budget airline industry offering low-cost flights all over the world, a culture that has caused a surge in the past decade or two of carbon-copious international travel.
This year might be the one during which everything changes, as travel difficulties and uncertainty arising from Covid creates a perfect storm for the travel industry.
Fortunately, that should mean a surge in national holidays and short breaks; so-called staycations. The UK tourism industry is set to see a huge increase in trade as people who can’t or won’t travel abroad instead enjoy all that the UK tourism industry has to offer.
Right at the centre of that industry is Skegness, a seaside town otherwise populated by around 25,000 but visited by eight million tourists a year, spending £526m each season.
Skegness is undoubtedly lively, loud and a bit brash in the high season, but isn’t that all part of the fun? Bright lights and fast rides?
James Mellors certainly believes so. He’s one of the new owners of Skegness Pier, which was on the market for £3m last year and eventually sold to the Mellors Group.
The Pier previously spent 44 years under the ownership of Carolyn Wilkinson and her family including the late Robin Mitchell. Carolyn described its sale upon the family’s retirement as a hard decision, but says she was relieved that James and the family are taking on the landmark and that she remains confident the company will do a great job of ensuring its continuity as an attraction at the forefront of the seaside town’s appeal.
James is the fourth generation to work in the leisure industry and the Mellors family came into Skegness from their native Nottinghamshire. Back in 1850 Skegness was still a town whose economy was founded on fishing and farming, rather than tourism.
By the time the railway arrived in 1877, for the first time the working classes could enjoy a trip to the seaside, a ritual previously only available to the middle classes and prior to that, the upper echelons of society.
At around this time James Mellors Snr’s grandfather was working in the industry and in 1890 started his business, running coconut shy and swingboat attractions. Over the next century the family galvanised their role in providing family fun across the East Midlands. By the 1970s, the family was bringing much larger rides to the area and soon added bingo halls and arcades to their estate, as well as trading in audio-visual equipment for the entertainment industry.
James Mellors Jr joined the family business in 1994 and helped to expand the company which now operates rides right across the UK, in destinations like London’s Olympic Park and Hyde Park. The company also has over 100 rides globally, building and managing the world’s largest touring theme park in Saudi Arabia, as well as designing and building its new waterpark attraction on an island just of the coast of Jeddah, connected to the mainland by a cable car.
In March 2016 though, the firm invested a little closer to their Nottinghamshire home and purchased the Fantasy Island site, which was founded in 1995.
Their faith in Skegness and the East Coast as a tourist destination was underwritten with its 2021 purchase of the Skegness’s iconic Pier. The Pier dates back to 1880 and comprises 10,000 square feet of entertainment space. At the moment, it also comprises a team of tradespeople overseeing James and the Mellors group’s investment in the attraction.
James is keen that as Pride goes to press, 2021’s holidaymakers will enjoy a new look facility that’s ready to benefit from this year’s influx of staycation tourists. It’s nothing more than a vote of confidence in Skegness, and the East Coast as a whole, says James.
“We made our first venture into Skegness with the purchase of Fantasy Island at
Ingoldmells,” says James. “We felt the site was under-utilised and had a lot of potential to offer in terms of increased visitor numbers and its ability to pull in visitors from both the local area but from much further afield too.”
“Happily, Fantasy Island now enjoys footfall somewhere in the region of 40,000 people a day in peak season. It has the largest open-air market in the UK and it has 36 rides over its 43 acres, as well as numerous cafés, food outlets and other attractions. It’s a safe, popular and family-friendly resort and we’re really proud of it.”
“We’ve real affection for the East Coast so when the opportunity came up to invest in one of its most iconic and important landmarks we jumped at the chance. Skegness Pier came onto the market and we immediately started to consider how we could update it, improve it and secure its future for generations to come.”
“We took over the pier in February this year; a challenging time for the East Coast but one which we think will provide a lot of opportunities too. We’re making a big investment in the site to update it cosmetically, and we’re installing new equipment and attractions.”
“Currently the attraction has its amusement and video game machines, soft-play areas, a 10-pin bowling alley, Laser Quest game and its latest attraction; a totally immersive virtual reality experience. We’ll look to add new attractions in the future but for now we’re keen to get the site back open to visitors and to capitalise on what we hope will be a great year for the town.”
UK tourism has needed a helping hand for a number of years, and from the crisis of Covid might come a lifeline. If that’s the case this year, then it’s important that the whole town capitalises on Skegness’s potential.
The purchase of the Pier by James and the Mellors Group is just one of the improvements that visitors to the East Coast will enjoy this season. Plans are currently underway to create a two-storey colonnade comprising a ‘look-out’ and café bar at Sutton on Sea, with new beach huts being created and a gallery space for hosting events and exhibitions.
Already work has been completed on Tower Esplanade which is being part-pedestrianised and is already enjoying new lighting and a more upmarket look. In addition, Skegness’s railway station will be subject to a series of improvements to ensure that visitors who arrive in the town by train will gain the best first impression possible.
Further up the coast, and four years after the closure of Cleethorpes’s Pleasure Island theme park, planning permission has already been submitted by Adrian Smith and Ming YPG Yeung of Fab2 to create a 57-acre holiday site with 250 eco-lodges, a new hotel and superstore to create a ‘Center Parks by the sea’ resort which will see £90m invested in the area, creating between 200 and 200 jobs.
All of the improvements and investment in the area are being helped by the government’s invitation for towns to bid for its Town Deal funds. Already Skegness and Mablethorpe have joined forces to bid for £50m of funding and have formed the Connected Coast working group to put forward ambitious plans for improving the coast. Achieving funding and promoting the seaside is more important than ever as the tide turns on international travel.
“Cheap European flights have seen people venturing abroad for holidays but this year we’re likely to see a reluctance to travel either due to fears about Covid, or concerns that international travel arrangements might be compromised.”
“Britain can benefit from that, and not just the East Coast but London, the Cotswolds, the Lakes, the South West, Scotland. We’ve some amazing opportunities in this country for tourism and we’re hoping that Skegness will enjoy great popularity this year because of that.”
“I have three children, aged between nine and 16, and my brother has two children too. Skegness – for families like ours – offers so many opportunities to enjoy a safe, family-friendly holiday that provides good value and offers lots to do.”
“Skegness has an incredible stretch of beach; clean and safe with golden sand. It has kiosks for ice creams, amusement arcades, a wonderful nature reserve at Gibraltar Point and all of the associated opportunities to enjoy spending time together. The aquarium, crazy golf and outdoor swimming pool, the beautifully landscaped gardens, fish ‘n’ chip shops and bars… all of them together create a really good holiday destination.”
“We’re delighted with the improvements we’re making to the Pier and we’re looking forward to welcoming both holidaymakers and Lincolnshire residents into the town to make the most of everything the East Coast has to offer. With the sun set to shine on the East Coast and the anticipation of restrictions being relaxed on 17th May and 21st June, we’re hoping that we can play our part in making Skegness somewhere really special to visit this summer!”
A History of the Pier…
• Skegness’s future as a tourism destination was sealed in 1877 when the Earl of Scarborough brought the railway to the town and formed the Skegness Pier Company.
• 44 designs for the new pier were submitted and Clarke & Pitwell of Hull’s design. Work began in 1880 with a construction measuring 1,817ft in length and 25ft in width, with successive bays extending every 120ft, four of which contained glass and wooden shelters.
• The pier opened on 4th June 1881 and its final cost was £20,840. It included a 700-seat concert hall at the t-shaped head and a dock from which steamboat trips began in 1882.
• In March 1919, the schooner Europa crashed into the pier and though a temporary repair was made, it wasn’t properly restored until 1939, after additional entrances and improvements were created in 1929 and 1936.
• 1948 saw a series of further repairs necessitating £25,528 of investment. A steel canopy was installed in 1949 but the East Coast floods of 1953 damaged the pier head and necessitated £3,000 of rebuilding.
• Further developments took place in 1971, followed by further damage in 1978 and a fire gutted the pier in October 1985, necessitating complete modernisation of the building.
• Investment by the Mitchell-Wilkinson family continued in 1991 with modern attractions and new bars, shops and stalls.
• The pier’s most recent addition was a ‘Hologate’ virtual reality experience and escape room, a casino was also considered at the time.
• September 2020 saw the Mitchell-Wilkinson family put the pier on the market for £1m with auctioneers Christie & Co describing the site as ‘a rarity.’
• It was purchased by the Mellors Group and has been subject to a refurbishment over the winter months ready to reopen this season.