Jim Parker: Torbay- where wealth and poverty are next door neighbours

Boomtime at last - a busy Torre Abbey Beach in Torquay
Photo:Jay Richards

Boomtime at last - a busy Torre Abbey Beach in Torquay Photo:Jay Richards - Credit: Archant

It would appear that Torbay's tourism and hospitality businesses have been making up for lost time in the past few weeks as business has apparently boomed.

The re-opening of the sector will have kept many a wolf from the door at least for the time being.

It would also appear that 'staycation' has something to do with the boom as people opt to stay at home and holiday instead of running the risk of a break abroad and a subsequent quarantine period.

But hands up, I am still as nervous as the next when I see our seafronts, cafes and ice cream parlours packed with visitors. Just a tiny bit of me asks the unreasonable part of my brainbox why the gent with Bradford on the back of his shirt has to choose Broadsands Beach for a nice afternoon out with his family, although they were safely miles away from me and mine!

The family with a Cockney accent and ice creams enjoying an innocent stroll on the Torquay seafront prompts the same, unnecessary and unwarranted questioning jolt to the same part of that brainbox.

I sincerely do not have anything against Bradford or London or the people coming from those parts and I most certainly do not have anything against our local businesses making hay while the sun shines and boosting our battered economy.

I think of all this was very neatly put into context by a local vicar!

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Daniel French, an Anglican priest in Salcombe, wrote a piece for the Spectator which drew lots of parallels with Torbay. It came after a story in another publication where the mayor of the same town criticised some holidaymakers for failing to socially distance with the headline 'The invasion of 'Chelsea-on-Sea.'

The Rev French wrote: 'I find myself hearing the consternation from all sides: tourists who don't recognise themselves as 'invaders'; shopkeepers and pub owners who rely on tourists for their livelihoods; and locals who are welcoming (or not) these people arriving for their summer holidays.'

He adds in the Spectator piece: 'The manager of the local tourist information board sums up the struggle to find spare accommodation: 'It's like Bethlehem; no room in the Inn.' This is good news for struggling businesses. But nevertheless, this also confirms to some anxious residents and others an impending Covid-19 spike might be on its way.'

He goes on: 'Salcombe is not as wealthy as appearances might suggest. By nine o'clock this morning, there was already a small queue waiting to collect from our new Co-op sponsored food share in the church porch. An hour later at the high altar reciting the 'Our Father' I catch sight of one soul quietly rummaging through the bread baskets. The line 'Give us this day our daily bread bread' sticks in my throat. Without the Covid-tide 'staycation' boom, this queue would undoubtedly be substantially longer. The popular image of Salcombe as a millionaire's paradise is a caricature. In reality, a large chunk of the local population are on low incomes, or are running precarious businesses that rely for almost all of their income on the summer trade.'

Ringing loud Torbay bells where wealth and luxury and poverty are next door neighbours.

'A colleague whose wife volunteers in a neighbouring town's food bank confirms what happens without the financial injection provided by a booming tourist trade,' writes the Rev French.

'She says that the weekly demand for food parcels has flipped from 60 to 400 in the past few months. It is all too easy to forget what destitution, job loss, and bankruptcy and a house repossession looks like.'

He says one solution may be an improvement in communications between the locals and the visitors, adding: 'Yes, it's true that some visitors are behaving badly, but most aren't and are just grateful for a chance to escape for some time out after this difficult year.'

And that probably includes that gent from Bradford and that family from London.