We must keep shelters for the community

Jubilee Pavilion
THE Jubilee Pavilion on Marine Parade – the subject of discussion in recent weeks by town councillors concerning its future

THERE has been discussions among councillors, I am reliably informed, about the possibility of letting out areas of the Marine Parade shelters for commercial purposes.

These discussions took place at a time when the town council was fearful of losing tens of thousands of pounds in income during lockdown.

At one time the council was facing a doomsday estimate of its £1million-plus reserves slumping to £67,000 and councillors were looking at various ways of boosting their income.

As we have reported this week, the actual sum in lost revenues during lockdown was £310,000, a big sum for a small town. But thanks to some astute accounting and keeping a close watch on expenditure by the Mayor, Cllr Brian Larcombe MBE, and the town clerk John Wright, aided by a very busy summer in Lyme, the council reserves have recovered to a much healthier position.

And with an even busier summer predicted for this year, these could well recover to a six-figure level.

I am not suggesting that any proposals to let out the community rooms at the Marine Parade shelters are now likely. It’s a council’s duty to look at all revenue producing ideas, but if my predictions are right, Lyme will be in a very enviable financial position come September.

I am strongly opposed to the shelters being commercialised and I think many others are as well, especially the pavilion section.

The original pavilion was built in the early part of the 20th century as a public space and was used as that for many years and, more latterly, after a local building firm were employed to extend the shelters, to house deckchairs in the summer.

When the shelters were redeveloped in a £1million project, the pavilion became a much-needed information point and exhibition centre.

Some of the most sophisticated wi-fi equipment on the market was also installed – thanks to Chris Boothroyd who virtually raised £200,000 single-handedly to equip the facility.

Mr Boothroyd then recruited a team of volunteers – including myself and my daughter Francesca – to man the information point.

This was in the early days of the View From Lyme Regis, for which I wrote most of the editorial copy on my laptop in the shelters on a Sunday morning.

The Information Point played a useful role in answering a myriad of questions about Lyme and the surrounding area, although the most asked question was “where’s the toilets?”

Mr Boothroyd was subsequently treated in an appalling manner by a previous council and all the volunteers stepped down.

The two community rooms, each end of the construction, are perhaps a little more difficult to defend. Neither one has been overused since they came into being but have never really been marketed by the council with any real enthusiasm.

I think I was the first person to book the Lister Room (the one nearer to the Cobb) for Cancer Research UK fundraising. Since then, I’ve booked it many times and we have raised thousands of pounds by holding events with such glorious views over Lyme Bay.

The Langmoor Room at the other end of the shelters (next to the old Bay Hotel) has been used rather less.

I’m sure both of them would be snapped up for commercial use if they go on the market, mainly because of their wonderful location, although the lack of customers in the winter months might impact on their popularity.

I think Lyme’s seafront is more than adequately commercialised as it does not need more seaside-type kiss-me-quick emporiums. Some people come to Lyme just for a stroll along the prom.

The answer to the dilemma of what to do with the Jubilee Pavilion is easy to solve. Following the closure of Lyme’s Tourist Information Centre (TIC), there is certainly a need for a summer-long information point which could be manned by one council employee, supplemented by volunteers at weekends.

The closure of the TIC, run by Dorset Council, was met with strong opposition when the plug was pulled and using the pavilion for this purpose would help to ease tension between the town council and the trading community, which is fairly toxic at this present time.

It’s nice to be back…

DURING lockdown we continued publishing LymeOnline as a digital version on our website, but we were conscious, of course, that many of our readers like their news in a printed format.

So it’s great to be back this week with your favourite free newspaper. One thing we know after being in lockdown for so long, many of you missed your fortnightly update on what’s happening in and around the town.

LymeOnline is a community, not-for-profit enterprise and we are eternally grateful to those of you who have supported us during the long months of lockdown, particularly one lady who wanted to be anonymous for her very generous donation. As a regular reader, she will know who we are talking about.

This week’s return issue is 32 pages and crammed with some great stories and features. Thanks also to our sponsors and advertisers for without them LymeOnline would not survive.

Why I spoke up for the trading community

TO quote the late and great Daily Mirror columnist, Bill Connor, who wrote under the pseudonym of ‘Casandra’, when he returned to the post after the war: “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, it is a powerful hard thing to please all of the people all of the time.”

Don’t I know it.

In my column last week I expressed the view that I thought it was a mistake for Lyme Regis Town Council to allow a food festival to take place as we come out of lockdown.

There were two reasons: firstly, COVID restrictions with regard to social-distancing were still in place; and secondly, I thought that such an event, which could well have been detrimental to local traders, should not have been sanctioned when local businesses had been hit so hard during the pandemic.

Some traders were clearly upset by the event and I understand a letter of complaint was sent to all councillors, although there is some conjecture over whether they all received it.

One trader told me that his businesses was down by 50 per cent on the day that eat:Lyme Regis was staged with about 60 stalls along the seafront.

The organisers were not best pleased with my comments and have asked for a right to reply. In the cause of fairness, we have agreed to do so, but at the time of going to press no communication had been forthcoming.

I am not opposed to food festivals per se. In fact, I helped out with the compering at the first couple of Food Rocks, run by the Mark Hix organisation.

The big difference between Food Rocks and the other food events which have taken place in the town is that Mark’s events have raised thousands of pounds for two charities – the RNLI and the Fisherman’s Mission.

I appreciate that the festival organisers offered pitches to local traders, but that means to participate they would have to employ additional staff and after the last 18 months when very little has gone through their tills, this was not the time to do it.

When councillors gave their approval, the view was that such an event would bring people into the town which would provide some spin-off to local shops and hospitality outlets. I’m not sure many local traders agree with that view.

In last week’s column I also wrote about the future of ambitious plans by Palmer’s Brewery for the redevelopment of the Three Cups site in Broad Street. Just before lockdown, the brewery announced they would be starting work on the £5million project.

A spokesman for the brewery informed me this week that, understandably, they had to shelve the plans for the time being whilst concentrating on helping their publicans through these difficult times, but there was still every intention to proceed with the plans when the time was right.

That’s good to hear but it could take a while for the recovery to enable such investment to proceed. Lyme will be watching closely.

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