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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Welcome the Blue Whale

Another fascinating television programme flickered across my screen this week. The Natural History Museum in south Kensington decided to replace the centre piece in its main hall - skeletal remains of a dinosaur which had long been a key feature greeting visitors, with those of a blue whale.

The blue whale's huge skeleton was that of a specimen washed ashore on the south coast of Ireland over a hundred years ago and acquired by the museum at the time but not displayed due to its size. Instead it had been stored (in the attic) of the museum out of public view. The programme followed the incredible work in a. dismantling, cleaning and then reassembling the whale's bone structure in a dramatic realisation of its movement in the deep b. dismantling and removing the dinosaur's skeleton (for further display elsewhere in the country) c. re-erecting the very large whale skeleton suspended from existing internal iron framework pillars within the Museum's Great Hall. All of this was seemingly done within a twelve month timeframe, with external specialists assisting with structural reinforcing of the whale's skeleton and very importantly assessing the weight bearing stresses on the museum's structure.

All of this is truly poignant when one hears this week of Blackpool Council's decision to terminate the extended studies and unrealised proposal for creating a new museum dedicated to the town's rich (very rich) and colourful history of leisure and entertainment. Intended to utilise internal space within the Winter Gardens complex it had been lauded as a quality heritage attraction in the centre; open year round and allowing public display of a lode of material stored by Blackpool Council (and others).

A team of well paid experts and professionals was recruited, using public funds and a grant from the Arts Council over the past two to three years. Just what they actually accomplished, apart from two or three illustrative concept designs, with the £2 million plus of largesse directed their way will no doubt become buried in a time capsule to be also stored in Council vaults - not to be opened before 2150 or thereabouts. Blackpool's treatment of its amazing heritage is a mixed story. The path to establishing a centre fit for purpose that showcases the town's story has even more twists and turns than a Charles Dickens novel. A bequest to the town by the Grundy family in the early 20th Century, along with art and artifacts housed in a purpose built display gallery - has been lost to the town, having been given over to metropolitan London centric Arts Council control and their management. The Grundy family's own donated artwork (and much more) being consigned to large packing cases hidden god knows where around Blackpool 'in store'. Instead the 'Grundy' provides a provincial platform to showcase questionable talents of wannabe artists and creators who have little or nothing to do with Blackpool, and appropriate disinterest by residents and visitors.

Blackpool's Town Hall, itself redolent of a time when the resort was bursting with pride and affluence, is now quite evidently in need of much tlc -flaking paint, windows need cleaning, car parking (or vans) cluttering its frontage usually, and generally a run down woebegone appearance contrasting to the Council Offices just up the road next to Sainsbury's store. The classic Edwardian 'Picture House' with adjoining equally classic 'King Edward' Public House is deserving of a heritage conservation initiative on this small corner of otherwise wholly depressing Central Drive gateway for visitors. Conversely one Fylde businessman took on himself to revitalise and find worthwhile use for the former Regent Cinema (the white tiled classic building on Church Street) - without recourse to public funds. Across the road, the former municipal Stanley Building, itself a 1920's period design, languishes in uncared for state; but at least has some occupiers in place. Abingdon Street Market staggers on in a timewarp (inside) with an ever decreasing number of brave traders just about keeping it alive, no thanks to its out of town Owning company. Clifton Street and Talbot Road shout 'decline' up to their decaying rooftops.

One bright and positive note is the Council's approval to create a new conferencing venue off Leopold Grove attached to the very same Winter Gardens structure which was to have become home to the 'Museum of Blackpool'. This is going ahead without recourse to a well paid cadre of imported 'professionals' munching their way through a nice little earner by the seaside over the past two to three years. In fact the Conference centre was designed, approved and underway well within the mythical Museum of Blackpool non experience. In fact the only improvement to the Winter Gardens structure (other than its earlier impressive restoration internally) has been the creative art sprayed along the previously barren exterior wall courtesy of 'unfunded' Sand Sea and Spray urban arts initiative led by Robin Ross. This enterprising programme had for successive years seen street artists descend on the town's exterior brickwork to create marvellous eclectic imagery - at no charge to the Council or the taxpayer. Good on you Robin. Sadly lack of a Council contribution towards this annual project saw him throw in the towel this year; with the international artists gravitating no doubt to more welcoming and appreciative venues elsewhere in England. Other well paid transient entertainment and performers from time to time shuttle into (and quickly out of) Blackpool courtesy of more Arts Council (or similar funded Programmes) but with not a whit of lasting impact or permanence for those living here. Tapping into and utilising the undoubted wealth of creative young talent close at hand on the Fylde coast, apparently is not on the powers that are agenda. Blackpool's Council would have been far far far better served had it drawn on the cornicupia of designers, IT, engineers and creators who fill the Blackpool & The Fylde College campus year in year out - to come up with a rational, realisable and deliverable 'Museum of Blackpool' - lessons should be learned... but I have grave doubts, given embedded interests hidden from public view.

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