The rain poured down in Blackpool today, but that didn’t stop hundreds of well-wishers from coming out to see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The couple took on a busy schedule of engagements focusing on the challenges currently facing the popular seaside resort and how they are working to revitalise the town.
The first stop was the iconic Blackpool Tower, where William and Catherine met with leaders for a roundtable briefing about the town’s history, issues, and regeneration projects in the works. Attending were the mayor and mayoress, Coun Gary Coleman and Coun Debbie Coleman, Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn, and Blackpool South’s Labour MP Gordon Marsden.
In a video posted by Roya Nikkah of The Sunday Times on Twitter, William remarked that “unemployment remains quite high, skilled professionals continue to leave faster than they arrive, and Blackpool has become a transitory town for many without the right employment opportunities. Against this backdrop, mental health issues and social problems have risen.
And a unique problem has also arisen as a result of falling demand for tourist accommodation, which has created an oversupply of what the council now perceive to be extremely low-quality private-rented accommodation. Catherine and I are going to see examples of that first hand. And it is something that we’d like to hear a bit more about during the course of this meeting, as well as about the positive steps being taken by the community to address the issues.”
They also viewed the Blackpool Tower’s famous ballroom, as seen on Strictly Come Dancing. Opened in 1899, the ornate ballroom played host to local couples today, as well as the royal couple, who watched them in a waltz performance.
After departing the tower, the duke and duchess headed out onto the Comedy Carpet on the promenade to greet the crowd. Bundled in a green Sportmax coat, Catherine received flowers from excited Happy Tots nursery students while William told them his children would appreciate their gift of Blackpool rock.
As Prince William mentioned during the roundtable meeting, housing is a massive issue in Blackpool, and the Cambridges next took part in a previously embargoed engagement.
They toured Kirby Road, where dangerous, dilapidated properties are being renovated by the Blackpool Housing Company, and learned how steps are being taken to give residents an opportunity to rent a safe place to live at a fair cost.
The Duke and Duchess visited one of these residents, Christina Jackson, in her home and spoke with her about the housing problems in the area. Jackson had been the victim of an unscrupulous private landlord and is now happy living in her newly renovated accommodation.
It was a stark contrast to the home they visited before hers, where William and Catherine were asked to walk on planks to avoid stepping on the rotting floorboards. The Duke and Duchess expressed shock at the living conditions, where mould and graffiti covered the walls, and trash and children’s toys were scattered on the floor.
Another property they visited made international headlines in 2013 when 16-year-old Sasha Marsden was sexually assaulted, stabbed 58 times, and her body set on fire.
According to Kensington Palace, “around 50 bedsits in the area have now become 13 good quality homes for families.”
The Cambridge’s next engagement took place at Blackpool Central Library. They briefly chatted with the crowds waiting outside, and Lauren Parkinson, who handed the Duchess a bouquet of purple flowers, spoke with Royal Central about the experience.
“It’s so lovely when she comes over to say hello,” Parkinson said. “She was incredibly smiley and seemed genuinely glad to be here.”
Parkinson had also waited outside the Blackpool Tower earlier in the day, and later at Revoe Park, and despite standing for hours in the rain she said she enjoyed the atmosphere of the crowds.
“An interesting point I noticed at all three engagements I managed to get to today, three times Kate was offered an umbrella by her aides – and she declined them. I think it was because she knew people would want to get pictures of her and didn’t want to block their views.”
Inside the library, the couple took part in several roundtable discussions geared toward mental health. They met with those taking part in the “A Better Start” programme, which aims to improve outcomes for children in Blackpool. The organisation works with parents, caregivers, and local agencies to address the needs of kids aged three and under.
Catherine has a particular interest in early childhood development and mental health, and the discussion touched on the impact of parental involvement and how they are breaking the cycle of poor generational outcomes.
The Duke and Duchess also spoke with those in the Blackpool emergency services and first responder community, discussing how they help address mental health issues and what is being done to reach out to those struggling.
The final stop of the day was Revoe Park, a community garden which has been recently revamped thanks to help from A Better Start.
The park was formerly a known location for drug use and has now been transformed to a child-friendly area used to promote families spending time outdoors. William and Catherine saw the park’s forest school and chatted with local parents and children, including members of the Dads 4 Life group.
They were shown a work shed where local fathers can learn skills such as wood building projects and were given necklaces made by the children with their names on them.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also met children from the Revoe Learning Academy Children Center. William and Catherine pitched in to help them plant flowers before saying goodbye to Blackpool, departing via helicopter back to Kensington Palace.