The warm days of summer have finally arrived and the improvement in weather coincided well with English Tourism Week which ran from 22-31 May. Whilst I have recently written about the challenges of opening up international travel which is a significant contributor to our local economy, domestic tourism is also very important for local jobs and businesses. Pre-pandemic, visitors to East Sussex contributed £1.4billon to the local economy. Small companies play a major role in the employment of more than 30,587 people in the visitor economy in East Sussex, covering a huge range of businesses from accommodation to wine and cultural tourism. So, over last couple of weeks when I have not been working in Westminster, I have been out and about in the constituency visiting some of these smaller businesses along with some more well-known visitor destinations to promote all that our beautiful part of East Sussex has to offer on my social media pages.
Many of us will be choosing to holiday in the UK this year and if my recent visits are anything to go by, you don’t need to leave East Sussex to enjoy the best of British beaches, countryside, towns and villages. Our local heritage and tourism sites as well as our high streets and hospitality businesses have been hard hit by the pandemic but are delighted to be fully open again and doing what they do best – helping people enjoy their precious leisure time.
I started my mini tour in Bodiam at the Kent and East Sussex Railway which is celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year. This heritage steam railway is a perfect way to enjoy the picturesque local countryside from Bodiam’s romantic ruined castle to Tenterden in Kent. Not far from Bodiam, I visited a relatively new vineyard - Oastbrook Estate, whose enthusiastic owner America Brewing loves to share her passion for wine with visitors and has an exciting summer of events lined up at the vineyard. Oastbrook is one of many East Sussex vineyards that are achieving great success for their wines, both nationally and internationally. You will find that many of them are part of the ‘Sussex Modern’ collection of places which celebrate art, wine and landscapes – if you haven’t discovered it yet, do visit the Sussex Modern website, it’s a great way to find inspiration for days out.
Two weeks I called into English Heritage’s Battle Abbey site where Manager, Natasha Williams, and her hard-working team are so pleased to have visitors back inside the abbey buildings and on the battle field exploring all the sights and sounds of the 1066 story. I then headed onto Battle High Street which was busy with people in and out of shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants. As well as enjoying the existing businesses which have kept going throughout the pandemic, Battle residents and visitors are delighted with the new shops and pubs which have recently opened. The high street is thriving thanks to the support of local residents and the entrepreneurial spirit of the business owners. Residents are rightly proud of their town and stopped to tell me how much they love their local high street and the huge range of local produce that could be bought there.
Last Friday, my whistle stop tour for English Tourism Week brought me to Bexhill where Stewart Drew, CEO of the De La Warr Pavilion, talked me through their new exhibitions and packed programme of events for the summer. They, too, are excited to be open again and their new exhibitions are a proving a great talking point and put Bexhill into the national media which is great for the town. From there, I called into some local hotels, shops and restaurants to chat to business owners who have worked really hard throughout the lockdowns by getting creative with what they offer. My day ended at Latin American restaurant, Sobremesa, in Sackville Road, where chef and owner Malcolm Emmanueil, aware of my passion for cooking, gave me a live demonstration of the new cookery courses he is running along with a tasting of the delicious dishes he prepared.
My English Tourism Week visits were just a small snapshot of the vast amount of beautiful places to visit and things to do in the 200 square miles of my constituency of Bexhill and Battle. If you are staying home for the summer, do go and explore the great days out which are right on our doorstep and support the businesses and high street traders who are looking forward to welcoming you back with new and exciting offers. I am looking forward to planning more local visits for the summer recess. If readers have any suggestions of local places or businesses to visit, then please do email me email@example.com.