A brightly coloured, futuristic new building has slowly come to dominate Redcar’s famous seafront and has hardly been out of the news, often for all the wrong reasons, for more than a year. Chris Webber found out more.

IT is probably fair to say that a bright, clean, cutting edge, future world is not what comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Redcar.’

But, along with all those traditional seaside holiday images – lemon-top ice-creams, kiss-me-quick - and the great, smoky steelworks, is a new vision for town.

It’s a vision made manifest in the shape of the Redcar Beacon, popularly known as the ‘vertical pier’ a gaudily-coloured, 80ft tower, a centre for creative businesses, on the seafront.

Directly in front of the new sea windfarm, which now dominates in the sea view, the £1.6m glass and steel construction is almost in touching distance of other brand new Redcar buildings - including Tuned In, a youth arts and leisure centre, and The Hub, another building for creative industries.

However it is the Redcar Beacon, sitting squarely in the middle of what is a building site for what will be a refurbished seafront, which has had by far the most public attention.

Part of a £75m regeneration project and built with money from now-defunct regional development agency, One NorthEast, the European Union and Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council it has rarely been out of the news since the beginning of last year.

Early stories in The Northern Echo focused on its previous name, The Vertical Pier. Many pointed out that calling a tower a pier was simply a misnomer, but worse than that, was the fact that many in Redcar have longed for a real pier to be erected in the town for more than a generation. The name was changed following a public vote.

Then there was a controversy surrounding the £50,000 payment to a PR agency to promote the building which some councillors thought could have been better spent.

Next came the claim the tower was tilting, like its ancient equivalent in Pisa. It wasn’t.

Then came the rumours that it would cost the public £5 to enter the building they’ve partly paid for. It won’t.

Chatting to shoppers and workers in Redcar it is clear the building is not yet loved by all.

Sam, a shop worker at the town’s Teesside Hospice charity shop, says that many older residents regard it as “a monstrosity.”

“There’s a feeling that it’s a waste of money and it doesn’t really belong in the town,” she explains.

Beth, a younger woman at 22, also a shop-worker, has a more positive view, saying: “I like it, it’s something different and this town needs to change.”

That last comment would be music to the ears of Coun Mark Hannon, who is in charge of economic development and regeneration on the Labour-run Redcar and Cleveland council.

Asked about the controversies and the reaction from the public he says: “There’s always a fair amount of whinging and moaning on Teesside.

"I always joke if some people here won a million on the lottery they’d ask for a refund on the ticket.

The Northern Echo: The View from the top of the Redcar Beacon
The view form the top of the Redcar Beacon

"But, at the same time, there’s always positive people who say, ‘keep it up, keep it going’.

“We’ve been a place of big industry and there’s a lot of people rely on the state.

"We need to change the psychology, become a place where people start-up businesses, a place for creative industries. This is part of that.

"Bilbao in Spain was a place of big industry that has transformed itself as a big centre for creative industries. That’s something for us to look to.”

We’re talking in the trendy cafe in the downstairs of the building. The coffee house has already employed 20 people, most of whom were previously unemployed.

Coun Hannon points out that the rest of the building is already full with new industries and if the businesses at the Redcar Beacon created just 100 new jobs it would generate £37m in ten years.

Eschewing the lift, which is in the central core of the building, I walk up the windswept stairs, past the huge black and white photographs of Redcar beach in its pre and post-war glory, and discover it’s easy to talk to the businessmen and women already at work in their new shop and workshop spaces, for which they pay an undisclosed amount of rent to the council.

One of them is Ian Luck, who has started running his Rock and Rollabillia from the fourth floor. Surrounded with photographs of rock stars like members of The Who and Pink Floyd, many taken by veteran photographer Graham Lowe at the legendary Coatham Hotel Jazz Club, just a few hundred yards away, Ian is optimistic.

“It’s just the perfect venue for us,” he says.

“And Keith Moon from The Who would run up and down the beach just in front of us here, it’ an image that makes me smile and makes me think, ‘this is a good place for us’.”

Mia Braine, a glass artist, explains she is taking a risk for her small business to move to rented property, but hopes people will come to see her work in her comfortable workshop and take an interest. S

he explains there’s no till allowed because of European Union rules, but hopes people will be inspired to buy her art after seeing her at work. She’s also brimming with hope.

Famous Hollywood director Ridley Scott was partly inspired by the murky, smoky industry of Redcar where he was educated to create a dark vision of the future in his iconic movie, Blade Runner. They should invite him back to this coloured place. The future might just be brighter than that.

*The Redcar Beacon will open to the public on Thursday, March 28 ahead of a weekend of Easter festivities.