REVEALED: Tourism, second homes, and 'England in the 1960s' - what people really think of Cromer
PUBLISHED: 17:04 26 April 2019
Copyright: Archant 2019
The EDP's Your Town project is casting a close eye on life in some of our region's biggest towns. Reporter Jessica Frank-Keyes takes a look at the place best known as the gem of the north Norfolk coast: Cromer.
Nestled on the Norfolk coastline, Cromer is famed for its seaside charm and holiday atmosphere.
The pastel fishing cottages and world famous Cromer crab saw the town dubbed “a very 1902 kind of place” by a national newspaper earlier this year.
But beneath the sunny face of it, lies a community with a strong sense of its identity and heritage, coupled with a push to adapt to face the challenges of the future.
Tourism is often seen as the lifeblood of Cromer, as the town rose to prominence in the 19th century as a summer resort for Norfolk's Victorian residents.
Visitors still pack the seaside town to the rafters for summer's Carnival Week - which marks its 50th anniversary this year, the Crab and Lobster Festival, the New Year's Day fireworks, and the newly-established Cromer Pier Vintage 1960s Festival.
And in a recent survey carried out by this newspaper, 82.1pc of our readers said they felt tourism was a good or a very good thing for the town.
Cromer district councillor, Hilary Cox, said: “If we didn't have the tourists, Cromer wouldn't be as vibrant as it is.
“We were built on visitors - that's what made Cromer.”
But she added: “I think the town has moved with the times.
“The type of events we put on now are different and that's why we get so many visitors.
“We have to keep moving or we end up staid - that's not progress.”
While district councillor Nigel Pearce said the town was “like stepping into a moving painting - a green and pleasant land”.
He said: “This town is very much like I think England should be. It's got a way of life of its own, its got a good community.
“It's like England in the 1960s and the 1970s.”
One of Cromer's institutions is its historic pier, which, with its 500-seat theatre above the waves, is a major factor driving tourism.
And manager Francis Gildea described the town's support for its pier, which turns over more than £2m a year, as “fantastic”.
He said: “The theatre is at the heart of the pier and the pier is at the heart of Cromer.
“The theatre drives the footfall and the shows themselves bring in 70,000 people across the year.
“The support from the local community is so important.
“It's a bedrock that enables us to be sustainable through a 12 month cycle. We're not a seasonal business anymore.”
For some residents, Cromer's popularity can present difficulties, with many saying they experience problems parking in high season.
Others highlighted a focus on visitors at the expense of residents, with one person surveyed claiming the area was being “turned into a theme park”.
But just 31.5pc of those surveyed said they were concerned or very concerned about crime in the town, after the seaside community enjoyed a peaceful August bank holiday weekend last summer, following the dramatic 'lockdown' of the town in 2017 when travellers wreaked havoc during the final day of the town's carnival.
Mrs Cox said: “Of those that aren't tourists, the majority have chosen to live here because of how lively and vibrant the town is.
“Cromer can't change drastically because of its structural limitations.”
She added: “People that live here should make the most of it.
“They're the beating heart of the town. It's them who keep the businesses open - the hard core that keep the cafes open in winter when the visitors aren't here.
“Perhaps they should be acknowledged for that.”
And Mr Gildea, who employs from 20 to 70 people at the pier across the year, added that the flow of visitors enable shops, pubs and restaurants to stay afloat.
“Most of the town's businesses need tourists to survive,” he said.
“The population isn't enough to sustain all the businesses that are generated as a result of tourism.”
But the town also faces pressure from a younger generation who are keen to see it develop.
Cromer has seen some changes in recent years, with a skatepark built in 2015, and a branch of Costa Coffee opening on Church Street in 2018 - but 53.2pc of survey respondents said they didn't like or really didn't like the chain's presence in the town.
Cromer Hospital could see a £4m cancer centre built at the old Davison Unit, and the community centre received a £75,000 upgrade last year, while plans for a £3.3m sports hub faced a mixed reaction, with 75.1pc saying they weren't sure or wouldn't use the facility.
And plans for former nightclub, Bouncers, are up for discussion, with the building's owner in talks with leaseholder Greene King.
But 33.3pc of those who took the survey felt there weren't or definitely weren't enough activities on offer in the town.
Phil Turner, 43, from Cromer, said: “There could be more to do for young families.”
While Claire Murray, 40, from Roughton, added: “I feel the range of activities for my age group are limited to the cinema, pub or occasionally the theatre.”
And 24-year-old Hayden, who did not give their surname, from Overstrand, added: “[There's] no night life which is extremely sad.
“We aren't all old and retired.”
What do you think of life in Cromer? Email Jessica.Frank-Keyes@archant.co.uk
'There's not really a lot to do' - growing up in Cromer
Elisha Hudson, a senior care assistant, and a former Miss Norfolk, grew up in Gimingham, just outside Cromer.
The 26-year-old said while Cromer was the closest nearby town, it could be a struggle to find activities there as a teenager.
“When you're younger you've got the beach and the parks, the pitch and putt, and the boating lake,” she said.
“As you start to grow up there's not really a lot to do.
“We used to get the train into Norwich to go out or to see music. There was nothing here really.
“I never had an issue with the trains but the buses were very unreliable.
“I think there should be somewhere for teenagers to go and socialise and make new friends.”
Miss Hudson added that a lot of young people have moved away to Aylsham or Norwich after finding a lack of career opportunities in Cromer.
“I think if you want a bigger career Cromer isn't the place,” she said.
“I think it's more of a starting off place.
“If you just want a job to grow your CV, there's cafes and hairdressers. But if you want more of a career you do end up moving.”
And Miss Hudson, who works at Halsey House in Cromer, and owns a home in Northrepps, added that property prices in Cromer were a shock.
“We found Cromer was very expensive to get on the housing ladder,” she said.
“Obviously it's by the seaside which makes it more expensive. But I think its generally just a nice town.”
But the former pageant winner and charity fundraiser, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2017, said she felt people were unaware of the option to have treatment at Cromer Hospital.
“Cromer Hospital can actually do a lot but people automatically go to Norwich.”
But Miss Hudson also said: “It is a lovely town and it does make you very grateful.”
'Cromer will become a ghost town' - concerns over second homes
Another concern is the prevalence of second homes in Cromer, with 51.2pc of respondents saying they were worried or very worried about the number in the town.
Stay-at-home mum Jemma Redding and her ex-RAF fiancé Kevin Watson have been on the waiting list for a three bedroom council house in Cromer where they can live with their three children for two years.
The family need to live in the area due to their children's schools.
Miss Redding, 27, said: “We know people in a similar situation.
“There's not enough houses to go around everybody.
“We've been told in the Cromer and Sheringham area there's a three year wait for a council house.
“He's lost out on jobs - we need to be living together because of childcare.”
Mr Watson, 34, added: “Jemma's next door neighbour's use [their property] as a holiday home and they come down a few times a year for a couple of nights at a time.”
Miss Redding, who grew up in Sheringham, said: “Why have a second home in Cromer when there's not enough housing anyway?
“Everybody would like a second home or a holiday home but in a small town there needs to be a limit to how many there can be.” And several readers who took part in our survey about Cromer shared their concerns about the issue.
Malcolm Munday, 68, from West Runton, said: “It's obscene to have a housing shortage and lose so much housing stock to second homes.”
Claire Murray said: “It breaks my heart to see all the beautiful rural land sites being destroyed so that more houses can be built, then I walk around the town and see all the second houses that stand empty for most of the year.
“This also means that rent for flats and small houses are way out of a lot of people's budgets as owners for these properties know they are more profitable as holiday homes than long term lets.
“This is pushing year-long residents out of the town, and, if it is allowed to continue, from October to April Cromer will become a ghost town.”
And Lauren, who didn't give her surname, said: “Second homes are having a substantial effect on the local area.”
The 26-year-old from Cromer added: “Given wages in the local area aren't competitive compared to the rest of the UK, it's driving local people out of housing market.”
Boost to highstreet from 1960s weekend
A recent event that was hailed a “huge success” in the town was the Cromer Pier Vintage 1960s Festival, which saw thousands turn out to enjoy a weekend of vintage stalls and sixties-style music and dancing.
The event saw businesses up and down Cromer's high street embrace the decade and take part in a 1960s window decorating contest.
Shops even reported a boost in their trade over the weekend, and 75.1pc of readers surveyed said they felt the event had been a success for Cromer, and would like to see it become as big as the Sheringham 1940s Weekend.
Pier general manager Francis Gildea said: “We had reports from the Chamber of Trade that businesses enjoyed trading not dissimilar to a August weekend.”
Box office manager Deb Lewis, who organised the festival, said: “We were delighted with how everything went.
“Everybody had a really good day's trading and from what I understand the hotels and BnBs also did quite well.”
And Sam Grout, Chamber of Trade chairman, said: “It's not always obvious to organisers but this isn't always the case for businesses on the day.
“People sometimes feel like they aren't allowed to get involved.
“The nice thing about the 1960s event was that the pier really engaged with the traders.”
Mr Grout, who owns The Old Rock Shop Bistro, added that both gift shop Upstairs, Downstairs and Asian restaurant the Bann Thai have recently expanded, and said: “I would say trade in Cromer is varied.
“At the moment we've got very few empty shops.
“Those that are empty it's often because people have chosen to retire or move to a bigger premises.”
And the cafe owner said the arrival of Costa Coffee in the town had been “a mixed bag”.
He said: “Speaking as a business owner, we haven't felt any real change.
“Others have perhaps felt it more.
“I wouldn't go so far as to say it was a positive for the town but it could have been a lot worse.”
One issue that has had a tragic impact on the town in recent months has been access to mental health services.
The families of several young men from Cromer who took their own lives last year branded the support they were offered, often based in Norwich, “remote, awful and inhumane”.
The deaths sparked an outpouring of concerns, with the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk setting up a north Norfolk branch of the campaign, and holding meetings in the town attended by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb.
The group hope to offer drop in support sessions tackling a range of issues affecting people in the town, from bereavement support to help with finding connection in the community.
And Empathy, a group founded to help people deal with the aftermath of bereavement by suicide, has also recently announced it will be offering support sessions in the north Norfolk area, in conjunction with Share As One.
The free Samaritans helpline can be accessed by calling 116 123 from anywhere in the UK.
'Room for improvement' - your views on life in Cromer
People from Cromer have shared their views about the town, with 43.2pc saying they believe the town had changed for the better in the last ten years, and 30.6pc rating their happiness living in the town as 10/10.
Malcolm Munday, 68, from West Runton, said: “I've lived here all my life, leaving secondary modern education aged 15 into the world of engineering and manufacturing, locally in Sheringham.
“I've travelled extensively and sold north Norfolk manufactured products worldwide. I eventually started up my own manufacturing company based in North Walsham employing 25 people which again exported on a worldwide basis.
“I retired eight years ago but want today's youth to have the same opportunities that I had.”
Molly, who didn't give her surname, said: ”[Cromer] feels like a very safe and happy place to live.”
The 27-year-old, from Suffield Park, added: “Maybe a few less people smoking cannabis would be nice.”
David Ash, 65, from Cromer, said: “Generally people are positive and friendly and are supportive to the tourists. We have a mainly traditional shopping experience available which is good.”
While 66-year-old Nick Austin, who lives in the town, added: “It is generally peaceful and a great place to spend your retirement.”
But 53-year-old Gillian Day, from Cromer, said: “We need to offer tourists something all year round.
“Some kind of indoor area would be very good - bowling, soft play area, or an indoor picnic area. We need something.”
34-year-old Lucas, who did not give his surname, said: “Cromer is a lovely place to live in, so let's start creating a real community here and start investing money for all people.”
And 56-year-old Beverley Broadhead, from Suffield Park, said: “Cromer is a great place to live, but there is plenty of room for improvement for the residents who are seeing many services and facilities cut or overpriced.”
My view - by reporter Jessica Frank-Keyes
Working in Cromer over the past year has been a chance to get to know a town and a community with a strong sense of its own identity.
People are - rightly - proud of their town's heritage. From its past as a Victorian seaside resort town with a thriving fishing industry, and tales of heroic lifeboat rescues, to celebrations enjoyed by residents and visitors of all ages, the town has something to offer to everyone.
The carnival, Crab and Lobster Festival, and New Year's fireworks, or simply just sitting on the pier to watch the sunset, are all part of what make Cromer so special.
But in other ways the town is looking to the future.
Plans for a new sports hub at the high school have sparked some controversy, but changes are never embraced by everyone.
And for those calling for more activities for the younger generation, this could prove to be a much needed step forward.
And the recent launch of a new 1960s event saw the town looking back to the days of flower power, and forward, to hopes the event could to rival the nearby Sheringham 1940s Weekend in years to come, offering a boost to tourism and high street trade alike.
But there are downsides to life in Cromer, like anywhere else.
Like many places in Norfolk, for those without access to a car, getting around by public transport can prove tricky.
And the debate sparked by the opening of a new branch of Costa Coffee on the high street last year threw into sharp relief the difficulties independent businesses face in the age of big corporations.
And worst of all, there have been tragic stories of young lives cut short and outraged calls to improve access to mental health support in the area.
But the community have also rallied round, with groups seeking to provide support to those in need of somewhere to turn, offering their services in the town.
It's a place that's proud of its past, with - hopefully - a bright future ahead.