A view from our special visitor Luisa - is Torquay on the cusp of a new beginning?

Torbay Weekly

University student Luisa Rombach is discovering what life on the English Riviera is like - through the eyes of the Torbay Weekly.

Torquay was the first place Luisa visited in Britain in the summer of 2016 between her A-Levels and starting university. In 2019 she also had the chance to study abroad in Aberdeen for a semester

Now, thanks to the Erasmus European student exchange programme, she is back for a three-month internship with the Torbay Weekly as part of her Master’s degree in British Studies, which she is doing at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Luisa, 24, is originally from a small village near Freiburg in Germany’s Black Forest. A keen interest in the English language and British culture led her to study first English and American Studies for her Bachelor’s degree, and now British Studies for her Master’s.

Her interest in journalism began when she interned at her local newspaper. Another similar internship followed and Luisa has written for her university’s student newspaper.

So how has Torquay and the Bay fared since Luisa first visited the shores of the English Riviera? She writes:

When I first came to Torquay in 2016, I probably couldn’t even have defined the word ‘pandemic’, let alone imagined to be living through one a few years down the line.

Alas, it’s 2022 and it has become obvious that Covid is here to stay for a while, changing all our lives, but also our towns and the places we call home.

I only get to call Torquay home for the next three months.  I couldn’t help to soon notice the difference between my first visit pre-pandemic and today. Torquay’s town centre is quite a sad sight, to be honest, and Covid can’t be blamed for that entirely. Particularly the upper centre on Union Street seems lifeless and an undesirable place to be, at times.

My first visit in 2016 was during summer, so I was one of many tourists swarming into Torquay’s centre, particularly the area surrounding the harbour. I must admit that comparing that to a cold January mid-pandemic is a little unfair.

But then again I don’t see how empty stores and sad-looking buildings of former glory years, such as the Pavilion, would be any more impressive in August sunshine.

Even on my first visit there was a sense of past beauty and glamour surrounding Torquay that the present had failed to live up to.

I had been promised the English Riviera, and while the views were (and still are) absolutely stunning, it did not strike me as a particularly affluent seaside resort. Six years later, all of that has become even more obvious.

Yet there is hope due to the £21.9 million Torquay is to receive as part of the government’s Town Deal funding.

The old Debenhams site has been purchased by the Council and there are plans to make the upper part of the town centre more residential and to rejuvenate the harbour area. It does seem that Torquay has the chance to once again become a buzzing seaside resort that offers a high quality of life not just to visitors, but also residents.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the council’s efforts led to a survival of the existing independent shops and an opening of new ones, differentiating Torquay’s town centre from those up and down the country that look completely identical due to the dominance of chain stores and closing of local shops?

Independent book shops and stores offering locally made products of value to both tourists and locals would be a massive asset for the town centre.

The same goes for the hospitality sector. While chain restaurants, just as chain stores, no doubt have their place in any town, quirky cafes that invite you to stay a while and watch the world outside go by and comfortable pubs to chat the night away in make a town special and unique.

Establishing a new community centre and thus giving the people of Torquay the chance to meet and come in contact with one another, something that sadly has hardly been possible in the past two years, would likely strengthen the town's community and give people a reason to come into the town centre other than for food or shopping.

I do hope that the Council’s plans, alongside the community’s willingness to support local businesses and the return of tourism will enable Torquay to develop into a modern, lively town with all that past glamour restored.