'Hit by many storms' - Clacton Pier owner on toughest ever year
- Credit: Kevin Jay
A battering by a "horrendous" winter storm might be enough the blow any seaside attraction off course.
But after being hit not only by severe winds but a global pandemic, Clacton Pier has weathered all the storms of 2020 - and pledges to be "bouncing back" stronger than ever to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2021.
The iconic seaside attraction was looking forward to a bumper year, with its Log Flume set to open that spring on top of its array of other entertainment.
Yet Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis both wreaked havoc, causing part of the historic structure to collapse into the sea.
“February 14, when the damage occurred, was truly horrendous and it presented a real challenge for us,” said owner Billy Ball.
Negotiations with insurers are still ongoing nearly a year later.
And little more than a month after the storms, the pier was dealt another financial blow - when all non-essential businesses were forced to close under coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
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"Without the support of the government and its furlough scheme and our bankers it could well have been the end," said Mr Ball, with the pier shut for three months during what would have been one of its busiest times of the year.
Fortunately, the site was able to reopen for the summer season, albeit with restrictions still in place.
A Covid compliant Halloween event and the North Pole Experience at Christmas helped to boost income at the tourist hotspot, which was awarded Pier of the Year in 2020, while the new Log Flume proving to be a big hit among visitors.
Yet current Tier 4 Covid-19 restrictions have forced the pier to close again, with no date in sight at the moment for when it might be able to reopen.
"You could say we have been hit by many 'storms' in 2020," said Mr Ball.
Yet he said: "It is time to look forward to celebrating both the Pier and Clacton’s 150th birthday in 2021."
He praised the pier's "loyal customers and suppliers who supported us through these tough times", saying: "We could not have done it without them.”
The aim to have the new Looping Star rollercoaster open for the summer is still very much on course, while the west side of the ride deck has already been cleared for repair work.
“It is a significant project but, provided everything goes well, we should be able to hit our target,” he added.
“The Paratrooper – which has been on the Pier since 1975 – and the Go-Gator which arrived in 1988, will both be moving on to make room for the Looping Star and there are other new attractions in the pipeline.
“It is always good to freshen up the ride offer and that is what we have been working on since we completed the indoor development, which included Discovery Bay soft play and Adventure Island Golf course."
Mr Ball added: “There have been many negatives but also plenty of positives during a period which has been incredibly difficult for many businesses in Tendring, especially those like us in the leisure and hospitality industry.
“There were some real lows, but we are bouncing back with a lot of confidence and optimism about where we are going next.”