Bexhill-on-Sea once again made history on Saturday 22 July. If this is to be the final Bexhill Roaring 20s, we've gone out at the very top!
Under stormy skies, with the constant threat of rain, huge crowds of people grew to witness the drama and spectacle of Bexhill-on-Sea's attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest Charleston dance. Having only just missed out on re-taking our record last year (825 people), we were determined to break it this year, and people arrived from all over the country to ensure we did just that.
From 12.30pm, dancers began to gather in the waiting area, in anticipation of what was to come. As we counted and clicked everyone through, there was a heightened sense of uncertainty as to whether we had enough dancers. It was looking a close thing, and London's record stood at 975. Then came the announcement - we were slightly short. This became a pivotal moment in the attempt, as, all of a sudden, people began emerging from the crowds around the terrace; each to the rapturous applause reserved for game show entrances, with every 'contestant' sporting a beaming smile and acknowledging the applause as they made their way over to be checked in. The steady trickle continued as, one-by-one, our numbers grew. The dancers chanted, "We want more! We want more!" and the crowds obliged.
Eventually came the announcement - we were ready - and the dancing began. It was fun; it was energetic; it was one of the most amazing spectacles Bexhill has ever witnessed. Led by the Debonnaire dancers, everyone Charlestoned their 1920s socks off for 5 minutes. Want to re-live it? Of course you do...
Dance completed, people looked to the independent adjudicators, and the announcement came through. 1086 dancers had taken part. We'd done it!
The Bexhill Roaring 20s wasn't just about the Charleston dance, though. Elsewhere around the town, we had a prohibition shoot-out in Devonshire Road...
Lorina McLaughlin brought Michael Schumacher's fabulous, iconic 1992 Benetton F1 car to East Parade along with a cavalcade of supercars. The noise from the F1 cars when they started up was truly incredible...
And all along East Parade there were cars (the Bexhill 100 Motoring Club turned out in force) and music - they truly put on the Ritz...
Back on the Jubilee Lawns, there was music, dancing, stalls, food and entertainment...
Sadly, although the weather held off for the Charleston challenge, it hit us shortly after. We weren't able to have the air display - after taking off to fly to Bexhill, the Great War Display team flew straight into a giant storm. With cockpits rapidly filling with water, they had to turn back. And other dancers and music acts were sadly not able to perform because of the rain. We've concluded, with reports of all-day deluges of rain in London and further West, that we ended up being quite lucky with the weather overall.
Yesterday's event saw an example of Bexhill's spirit and pride at its finest. There are some people that seem happy for Bexhill to be a quiet, retirement town all year round. I don't believe in that, and Bexhill businesses need us not to believe in that. We've got so much great history to show off and celebrate and with that comes tremendous opportunity. In addition, we have some great minds that are working incredibly hard to do amazing things that bring people in to our town, driving the town's economy forward. Saturday was proof of what this town can do when we come together! But more support is needed at the very top.
The future of the Bexhill Roaring 20s is, sadly, very uncertain. We've given Bexhill the biggest event since the Bexhill 100 Festival of Motoring. However, the funding is no longer there to support us. Due to a council funding policy that doesn't account for the contribution benefit of existing events to the town (in particular the non-commercial ones), instead focussing mainly on 'pump priming' new events, our funding was slashed by 2/3 this year.
The Bexhill Roaring 20s has always been a community event, not a commercial one - and it has to be so because of the nature of it. We rely on the generosity of small businesses to sponsor parts of the event, and generous members of the public to donate. But, this can only go so far and we need a change of policy if the Bexhill Roaring 20s is to return. It is no longer tenable for Roger Crouch and I to self-fund it as we have been. We can make this event even bigger and better if we are given the financial support (there's so much we couldn't do this year). We need your support to push for this change - not just for the Roaring 20s but for other struggling community events like the fantastic Festival of the Sea.
Let me tell you, three places in the world put on a 1920s event like ours: Napier in New Zealand, Blue Mountains in Sydney, Australia and Bexhill-on-Sea. Napier stages a two week festival for their Roaring 20s, funded to the tune of $2m every 2 years. The Blue Mountains in Sydney’s event is sponsored and funded by the New South Wales government. And then there’s Bexhill-on-Sea, whose governing council give a tiny amount of funding for an event that generates hundreds of thousands of pounds for the local economy.
So many people worked hard to make the event happen on the day. I can't mention everyone, but I would like to pass on special thanks to: Fiona Hemsworth, Carlie Stace, Nikki Parker, Gary Fellows, Jay Wootten, our leading ladies from Debonnaire Entertainment, Simon and Abi Newbury, our stunt performers, Stella and the Old Bathing Station, the Bexhill 100 Motoring Club, all the dancers, singers, performers and exhibitors and all the wonderful marshals, collectors and helpers. In addition, to all the sponsors and donators, I say a big thank you.
And then there's Bexhill and everyone who turned out to our event this year - from those who danced in the Charleston to those who encouraged and supported us all. Thank you.
I've left one guy until last, and you'll probably know who that is. Roger Crouch. Bexhill owes him a great debt and needs to look after him. However, I actually believe it should go one step further. There's something called the 'Honorary Freedoms of the Borough of Bexhill' and this was last handed out to the four Row4Charity Indian Ocean Rowing Race winners in 2009. Roger has brought Bexhill one of the biggest and best events in its history, two world records and an incredible amount of publicity and revenue - all to the detriment of his own health. I think he deserves this accolade, and I'd like to make this nomination known to all at Rother District Council.
If this is to be the final Bexhill Roaring 20s then, wow, what a way to go out!
I always love to hear your comments, so please do leave one below. Note that you can post without having a login - simply select the 'guest' checkbox.