Southsea draws large crowds to enjoy the sunny bank holiday weekend as businesses face a 'make or break' summer
AFTER weeks of seemingly endless rain, a sunny bank holiday weekend has drawn staycation crowds to Southsea – and business owners are getting ready for a ‘make or break’ summer that hinges on the heavens.
With May on track to be the wettest on record for the UK, Portsmouth enjoyed a balmy bank holiday weekend, with clear blue skies and highs of 20C.
And the good weather saw large crowds make the most of it across Southsea – to the huge relief of seafront businesses hard-hit by the sodden spring and months of Covid-19 restrictions.
For many, this summer will be ‘make or break’ depending on the weather, according to Edward Ayres, who has been running bungee and inflatable rides around Canoe Lake for 12 years.
The 58-year-old said: ‘If it was a washout this weekend, it would be very, very difficult.
‘This last month, I have not made one penny, because it’s rained every day. Usually, May can be a good month.
‘It’s make or break for a lot of businesses along the seafront.
‘But you would be surprised by the number of new visitors who come down here, people come here from all over the place.
‘It’s been a good turn out – it’s a nice surprise.’
Fun fair owner David Wallis, who runs the Kidz Island attractions on South Parade Pier, hopes that a good bank holiday weekend will lead people to reappraise a British seaside resort holiday.
He said: ‘The weather makes a massive difference. We lost the last three weekends because of it.
‘We have invested heavily with the rides so we need the good weather. We really need it to be a good summer.
‘If we make it good now, people will want to come back. When people come they should think, ‘it’s quite nice where we live, it’s lovely here.’
‘When the sun is shining, we can compete with anywhere else.’
The attraction impressario has invested a six-figure sum into three new rides at the end of the pier ready for this summer, with high hopes to attract returning trade.
Emma Wilson, who has run the Southsea Model Village for five years, is also hoping that the weekend is the start of a summer bounce-back after a year of nearly zero business and several spates of vandalism.
She said: ‘We opened for just nine weeks for the whole of last year.
‘But I think things have changed in the last few weeks – everyone is happy to be out again. Yesterday was brilliant and we got the weather behind us now.’
The sunny weather and easing restriction weren’t a relief just for businesses – as six-year-old Leah Watton-Lawrence was able to celebrate her birthday surrounded by 15 friends near Canoe Lake.
Mum Claire said: ‘She didn’t have a fifth birthday party last year. And this birthday party was supposed to be last weekend, but we postponed it because of the weather.
‘This year, we’re making the most of the restrictions being eased.
‘A little one asked, “is Covid-19 going to be gone?” And I said it’s going every day – it’s getting easier.
‘This is the first time they have been able to do this in a long time.’
Southsea residents have ‘taken for granted’ the attractions on their doorstep, according to one resident out enjoying the rides on South Parade Pier.
Dave Aldridge, alongside his wife Stephanie and their daughter Chloe, aged five, said: ‘When your freedom is taken away you realise what’s on your door step. We have taken it for granted.
‘If you don’t have international travel, how much wealthier places like would be, with the money staying here.’
Day-trippers Tom and Marianne from Guildford agreed, advocating for people across the country to come and support south coast businesses.
Tom, 63, said: ‘Any weekend we get, we come down here. It’s just relaxing. There’s always different stuff to do.
Marianne, 74, added: ‘It’s one of our favourite places to visit.’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
You can subscribe here for unlimited access to our online coverage, including Pompey, for 27p a day.