Seaside towns have been deemed one of the least understood of Britain’s 'problem areas' (House of Commons CLG, 2007; p. 42). This is due to the amalgam of economic, social and environmental issues documented in the academic and policy literature that coalesce to create these 'problems'.
Many such localities are characterised by semi-redundant tourist accommodation (Stallinbrass, 1980), low house prices, and low rates of the economically active, notably pensioner and single-parent households. This situation has been compounded through the development of low-cost housing and the conversion of housing stock into multiple occupancy dwellings to house vulnerable people such as children in care and ex-offenders. Problems of economic decline have been exacerbated by cultural and social displacement. There has been an exodus of younger people with higher qualifications, while those who stay tend to be from poorer backgrounds. In turn, this has created a transient and unstable community and has placed considerable strain on local services. Other studies have also highlighted the prevalence of poor mental health in coastal communities combined with a reliance upon a visitor economy that is subject to seasonality and volatility in demand.
Professor Sheela Agarwal has undertaken extensive research on deprivation and seaside towns. She led a project that examined the nature and extent of disadvantage in English seaside resorts through analysis of a specially devised spatial and temporal database, which drew together various publicly available sources beyond the population census and Index of Multiple Deprivation. Using univariate, bivariate and multivariate analyses of this database, a new typology of highly deprived resort neighbourhoods was devised, with clear implications for the formulation of more targeted policy responses. The results also indicate the persistence, complexity and distinct spatial clustering of deprivation, which establishes a case for a much stronger geographical emphasis in future research and policy agendas, including third sector partnerships.In addition, she is currently leading on a study that investigates the motivations, skills and aspirations of in-migrants to Hastings with a view to exploring the relationship between in-migration and disadvantage. Of particular interest is an examination of who the in-movers are and what attracts them to Hastings. The focus is, therefore, on everybody, including the young, the middle-aged, recent in-movers or older in-movers, the semi-retired or those desiring a lifestyle change. Also of interest are in-movers’ motivations, skills, qualifications and aspirations, and the impact that they are having on Hastings generally and more specifically on disadvantage. What skills, economic, social and cultural capital, and qualifications do those who have relocated to Hastings bring with them? Are they able to access further and higher education? What kinds of employment do they seek, have or aspire to? Do they wish to engage in further or higher education? What is the impact of their life histories on their current situation?