Directors on the rollercoaster ride of running Great Yarmouth’s Pleasure Beach in difficult times
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
Great Yarmouth’s Pleasure Beach is back open for business and ready for COVID-19 challenges thanks to the unstoppable Jones family
The last time Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach was forced to close its famous gates, it was due to the outbreak of war: this summer, the enemy has been invisible.
COVID-19 put the brakes on the legendary wooden rollercoaster, a park stalwart since 1932, stopped the Gallopers spinning and silenced the music: and it’s only now that the Pleasure Beach is coming out of hibernation.
The attraction opens on Saturday with a host of new safety measures designed to keep visitors and staff safe, from timed entries to sanitizing stations, limits on the number who can be on rides to social distancing.
But the same fun of the fair will be there in all its whirring, spinning, death-defying, scream-if-you-want-to-go-faster, candyfloss and popcorn-flavoured glory.
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There’s even a new ride, the Lightning 360, on which you can pilot your very own jet with interactive controls, perform a barrel roll, ascend and descend and if you’re strong-stomached, all of the above at 15m above ground.
Jamie and Aaron Jones, the brothers who step in the footsteps of their grandfather and father before them, have spent countless hours formulating plans to safely reopen the Pleasure Beach along with their Dad, managing director Albert Jones.
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The brothers are the fourth generation to help run the family-owned Pleasure Beach, one of the best-loved amusement parks in the UK and a Great Yarmouth landmark.
While Jamie followed Albert into the business when he left school aged 16, Aaron had other plans, none of which initially involved the fairground life.
He spent 10 years with Ipswich Town’s development academy before moving to America to play college soccer at Georgia State University, where he played for the Panthers while he studied for a degree in economics.
In 2015, he transferred to Clemson University and the Tigers, also playing in the Premier Development League for Carolina Dynamo before signing a professional contract with Philadelphia Union.
He came home in August 2018 and signed a two-year deal with National League North team King’s Lynn Town, where he remains.
But the call of the fairground was, in the end, impossible to ignore: this business is in their blood, it’s at the heart of family life.
“When you’re a kid, it’s pretty cool to have a family who own the Pleasure Beach,” laughed Aaron, “you find a lot of people suddenly want to be your friend!
“This place is at the heart of our family and working with my brother and my Dad just feels like the right thing to do: especially now.”
As with other industries in the hospitality and leisure sector, the Pleasure Beach has been dealt a devastating blow with enforced closure, a long period of uncertainty and then strict rules governing reopening.
“It has been tough – really tough,” admitted Jamie, “but we have fought tooth and nail for this business and we are confident that the measures we’ve taken will keep people safe and still give them the Pleasure Beach experience.
“Had we not been told we could open in July, had summer been a write-off…I’m not sure what position we’d be in now. But we are hopeful that we can rescue part of the summer, even if things have to be very different for now.”
The Pleasure Beach will be open from July 11 and visitors are being advised to book online in order to grab one of two – perhaps three, in future – time slots of three-hours.
Due to social distancing guidelines, there will be limited numbers of visitors and ride capacities have been limited.
There will be sanitising stations and guidance for visitors but…Aaron and Jamie are adamant that the customer experience will still be the thrilling ride it’s always been.
“It’s a privilege to work for the business and I often wonder what my Grandad would say,” said Aaron, who describes Jimmy Jones as “my idol”, “my family have put blood, sweat and tears into this business to make it the special place it is today.”
It was 1954 when the brothers’ great-grandad Albert Botton first took the reins at the Pleasure Beach and 66 years later, it remains one of Yarmouth’s most-loved venues with its iconic rollercoaster dominating the skyline.
Today, they are hopeful that the people who love the Pleasure Beach will come back for the thrills and spills which have been served up in Yarmouth for decades and that at least some of the summer can be salvaged.
Meanwhile, there’s some good news for the Jones fairground family: Jamie’s wife Amber is expecting a baby in December: “So that’s the next generation ready to take over!” he laughed.
* For more information and to book, visit www.pleasure-beach.co.uk. You can also buy tickets at the ticket gates if there are sufficient spaces left.
History of the Pleasure Beach
Charles Blake Cochran, better known as CB Cochran, was an English theatrical manager and impresario who was attracted to the thriving seaside resort of Great Yarmouth in the early 1990s.
By 1909, he had persuaded the local council to grant him a lease for a proposed seafront amusement centre which he opened with his first attraction: the scenic railway. The Joywheel followed in 1911 before the outbreak of war led to closure.
In April 1919, disaster struck when a fire devastated the scenic railway, but within months it was back up and running and by 1923, the council had relaxed its restrictions and the Pleasure Beach began to expand.
When the Scenic Railway came to the end of its lease in 1929, a massive water chute was installed to replace it.
After the Colonial Exhibition in Paris in the same year, the Pleasure Beach bought the huge Scenic Railway that had been built specially for the exhibition by Herr Erich Heidrich, a German expert in the field, and the ride was brought to Yarmouth.
The ride, which opened in 1932, remains the central attraction at the Pleasure Beach – in non COVID-19 times, it is capable of handling 2,500 passengers per hour.
The Botton Brothers arrived at the Pleasure Beach in 1954: the two brothers, Albert and Jim, grew up in a fairground environment and the attraction grew.
Starting by asphalting the whole site – which had previously been duckboards laid directly over sand – new rides and better facilities began to arrive every year.
Albert Botton died in 1975 and his position as managing director was taken by Jimmy Jones, who had married Albert and Lottie’s daughter, Jane, in 1960.
Jimmy had worked at his parent’s funfair in Bristol from an early age before moving to Yarmouth to run an arcade at the Pleasure Beach.
In 1992, Pleasure and Leisure Corporation PLC was formed and the freehold of the Pleasure Beach site was bought – a year later, Jimmy handed over the position of Managing Director to son Albert and took the position of chairman. He is now assisted by sons Jamie and Aaron.