A month on from Ava-May Littleboy tragedy, Gorleston deals with 'cloud of sadness'
PUBLISHED: 07:11 28 July 2018 | UPDATED: 14:59 28 July 2018
Cafe owner Hazel Watts is used to seeing colourful inflatable play equipment towering over the sands and hearing the whoops and cries of children having fun.
But a month ago, that all changed.
The death of Ava-May Littleboy has brought silence and a poignant void that casts “a cloud of sadness” over the resort.
“It has affected everyone,” Mrs Watts said.
“It’s just different. There is a sadness. Holiday makers may not relate to it but all the businesses do.
“From here you could see the bouncy castle but now there is a different feeling.
“People have been coming to Gorleston for years, they are calling it ‘a gem’ and we are hitting all the right notes in lots of ways but there is this terrible sadness.
“Everybody has felt it deeply. The bouncy castle towered over the kiosk. Without it, it’s a very visual sight and a painful sight.
“You cannot ever control the pain but maybe we could have something in her memory.
“It is still raw; there’s no noise.”
Gorleston wears its grief with a dignity typical of the sedate seaside town that prides itself on being more polite and composed than some of its neighbours.
One month on from the sunny Sunday - one of many this year - that saw three-year-old Ava-May die on the sands, the trauma is still real and visible.
Where once a giant colourful Minion greeted youngsters to the sandy sweep there are now just barriers and a few remnants of the inflatable fun park now at the centre of a major investigation.
Earlier this week, on the first day of the school summer holidays, parking was already at a premium by 10am.
Families lugging giant bags full of the day’s supplies, spades spilling out of hold-alls, made their way to the beach.
Young girls wielding boogie boards knocked into people passing along the busy pavement like flippers on a pin ball machine as they hurried to the waves to make the most of their day.
“They have no sense of space,” their mother said apologetically to anyone who happened to be about, rolling her eyes and smiling.
Soon most people come across the shrine left for little Ava-May, visiting with her family from Somersham near Ipswich and enjoying a bounce on an inflatable trampoline when she died.
It was a beautiful day during what has become a heatwave summer that will pass into legend for decades to come.
Faded flowers burnt brittle by the sunshine mark the spot where she lost her life on July 1.
The brutal suddenness of her death shocked the community and sent Norfolk and Suffolk into mourning.
On Wednesday the appeal of the wide beach and endless sea seemed as strong as ever.
Some stopped at the floral tributes to cast a quiet eye over the messages.
Others said they had deliberately avoided the spot, finding another access point to the sands and lifeguard station where many families like to set up for the day.
Carrie Richards, 40, had travelled from Diss, arriving at around 8am to enjoy the beach.
With her four children and eight-year-old-niece it was the first time they had visited the area since the tragedy.
“I did think twice about coming,” she said. “My children have played here on the inflatables and it makes you realise how close to death any of us are. I knew these (the floral tributes) would be here and it is really sad. It was so unpredictable and sudden. It’s not a nice start to the holidays.”
Lisa White from Filby was meeting friends at the beach with her ten-year-old twin daughters. Usually such a day would end with a farewell play on the inflatables, but not this year.
Even if they were still up she had already decided there would be no stop at the fun park.
“When you come round the corner it makes you think of the tragedy that happened here,” she said. “We talked about it on the way here in the car. One of the girls asked: ‘Is that the beach where the little girl died?’ And then all the questions came.”