Bangor Garth Pier, although not conventionally situated on a sandy beach, nevertheless occupies one of the most beautiful locations of any British pier. Whichever way you look, the view is breathtaking. Ahead, the isle of Anglesey looks almost close enough to touch across the Menai Strait. To the west is the historic Menai Bridge and to the east lies the Great Orme at Llandudno and the historic town of Beaumaris. Finally, looking back towards the shore are the magnificent mountains of Snowdonia. Following extensive structural repairs carried out by the City of Bangor Council and costing well over a million pounds, the pier has now been rendered safe from closure for many years to come. But the unusual location for a seaside pier, involving access via quite narrow roads, has meant that the pier is failing to attract the numbers of visitors it surely deserves. Proposals are therefore now in hand to raise the profile of the pier by investing in three main areas - community involvement, heritage promotion, and effective business management.
The people of Bangor love their pier but so far there have only been limited opportunities to become directly engaged with activities to support the City Council in the operation of the pier. Active social media sites operated respectively by Bangor Pier Appreciation Group and Bangor Civic Society clearly demonstrate that there is a strong desire locally for the pier to do well. A new community group, the Friends of Bangor Garth Pier (FBGP), has therefore been created to work closely with the City of Bangor Council, providing a team of volunteers to participate directly in activities that would increase the income to the pier by helping to attract new visitors, supporting new marketing initiatives, staffing areas that are too expensive to be covered by salaried staff, and engaging directly in fund-raising activities. FBGP has been created initially as an Unincorporated Association with entirely charitable objectives, but it is our intention that as the group develops it will be formally registered with the Charity Commission, probably using the Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) format.
Heritage is a story to be shared, and this requires accessible ways in which the historical, cultural and natural heritage of the pier and its place in the surrounding area can be deployed. At the moment, the absence of a suitable building such as a visitor centre seriously inhibits the telling of the pier's story actually at the pier, so we need to achieve this in a different way. Modern technology can be very effective in bringing heritage to life, as in the amazing animation below of the now derelict Brighton West Pier.
Brighton West Pier Lives Again
A further example is where a number of judiciously sited panels containing QR codes linked to heritage webpages could be mounted along the pier, enabling visitors to conduct their own heritage tour of the pier via their smartphones. Hand-held audio guides are now also becoming very popular in museums and heritage sites. But we should not forget the less technical ways in which stories can be told, such as attractively designed, guide panels explaining a particular aspect of the pier or a view from a particular location. And, of course, there is really nothing to equal a tour conducted by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic pier volunteer.
We all wish to see the Garth Pier retain its quiet, elegant charm but the essential requirement remains that visitor numbers must be in sufficient numbers to generate the level of income required to meet the pier's operating costs. The pier must therefore offer a range of features and facilities which will attract the numbers needed, not just in the peak season but throughout the year. The small private businesses located in the kiosks along the deck are a very important element of the pier and we need to continually look for ways in which they could be assisted to play an increasingly active role in attracting new visitors, including volunteer support. The larger Pavilion based business and the restaurant adjacent to the pier should also be encouraged to offer features aimed at attracting more visitors. The Garth Pier has considerable scope for hosting visits by coach parties and groups with specialist interests - photography, cycling, motor cycling, fashion, music and dance - plus events like food festivals and markets, many of which can be successful out of season. Marketing, attracting and managing new events will require the support of enthusiastic, dedicated and skilled volunteers, which is why the new community group will be so important.