How the rollerskating rink was the place to be in Great Yarmouth
PUBLISHED: 07:00 15 December 2019
Time was when it would have seemed like the end of my world.
Although it is seven decades since I roller-skated, it felt almost like a personal loss when the Mercury announced recently: "Roller-skating rink to shut."
Retroskate, the artistic roller club, is the victim of the impending demolition of its Marina Centre base and cannot be accommodated in its successor.
Unthinkable, was my first reaction, and I wish Retroskate well in its search for a new home because roller-skating occupied most of my leisure hours in my postwar school years - after my homework was finished, of course.
My venue was Gorleston Rollerdrome - the ballroom and dining room of the Super Holiday Camp off-season, and an outdoor rink (opened by schoolgirl celebrity Petula Clark, I recall) in summer when visitors were enjoying its indoor delights.
It was a popular novelty, with roller-dancing and hockey favourite extras.
The holiday camp, on the site of a long-closed dairy farm, was off Lowestoft Road, the main entrance opposite Stanley Avenue.
A long drive led to the main buildings. Between them and Bridge Road, alongside the Yarmouth-Lowestoft railway, were dozens of neat chalets, tennis courts and other recreational facilities.
Another entrance was by steps down from Bridge Road, still there today although there are no longer holidaymakers to use them, only residents of the Elmhurst Court housing estate occupying the former leisure land.
In that postwar period after the holiday camp returned to use after being occupied by troops on special training during the war, on some skating nights Freddy Belcher and his Orchestra played, and he was on the organ at other sessions.
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Among the casual skaters was Yarmouth High School pupil Anne Pashley, whose parents used to enjoy cups of tea while watching her; Roy, her father, was my schoolmaster who encouraged my journalistic hopes.
Anne had no roller-skating ambitions, concentrating on her sprinting and music. Her numerous subsequent athletics achievements peaked with an Olympic silver medal in the 4x100 relay at the Melbourne Games in 1956, and later she became an internationally-renowned operatic soprano.
She died in 2016, aged 79.
All good things must end - a feeling shared by us teenagers then and by Retroskate members now - and our Gorleston venue closed despite skaters' protestations. For us, Great Yarmouth's Winter Gardens and Lowestoft Palais were alternative skating venues, inconvenient but lifelines.
There had been roller-skating in the Winter Gardens almost from its arrival here in 1903, but its deterioration renders it dangerous for anything nowadays. However, in the Wellington Pier Gardens, perhaps in the 1960s, an outdoor rink was constructed for summer and was used not just for leisure skating but also for spectacular evening shows.
Casts included club members who had achieved national success. Holidaymakers loved the performances, packing the spectator areas and hoping rain would not force a premature end to the enjoyment.
Now, will Retroskate survive by finding new accommodation? It needs a spacious area, a floor fit for purpose, light and heat and other facilities. I have an idea - please don't laugh!
Although I have not been in the Town Hall's grand assembly room for years, and might find that it has been partitioned into office cubicles or is regularly occupied otherwise, I assume it is little used except for occasional major functions.
In a 2012 column about extensive improvements to the Town Hall, I wrote prophetically that the assembly room "is now flexible for adaptation to demand."
Perhaps it still is, and could be Retroskate's saviour while demonstrating that our councillors have goodwill and are equally flexible, willing to discuss striving to save a worthy local organisation at the expense of a little inconvenience.
Putting protective barriers around the rink perimeter, and perhaps removing the floor polish, are among the minor adjustments necessary. Income from skating might also help our beleaguered coffers...
Worth consideration? Or outright dismissal as fanciful?
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