The Blackpool Tower experience comes to Edinburgh
To celebrate Blackpool Tower’s 125th birthday, the popular seaside attraction gave some elderly residents in Edinburgh a special gift – by bringing the fun of its world-famous ballroom direct to their home.
The Blackpool Tower Ballroom is paying a visit to some of its old guests by travelling to care homes across Scotland for free, bringing a blast from the past to those who can no longer travel to or dance in the historic dance hall.
On Tuesday, residents at the Cluny Lodge Care Home in Morningside were treated to tiers of cakes galore and scones dabbed with generous portions of clotted cream, as part of a high-tea experience laid on by staff from the Tower.
The main reception of the care home came alive with the music of a bygone era, with the sounds of the Charleston and the waltz leading the elderly men and women on a reminiscent journey back to their younger days.
Sheila Thomson, a 92-year-old resident of Cluny Lodge, said that the event reminded her of her last visit to the Lancashire resort.
She recalled: “I visited Blackpool Tower over 40 years ago, just out of the blue, and danced in the ballroom after being asked up by a gentleman.
“I remember it being very bright and breezy, and we were all dancing around the hall – it was fun.
“I started dancing when I was only three years old and I always loved ballroom dancing and the tango. I even danced on ships taking people away to New Zealand after the second world war.
“This event is great; it really brings back some memories – but I’m not as agile as I used to be!”
Residents of the home with limited mobility could still join in the fun as Ali King, who works at The Blackpool Tower Ballroom, and her team energised the room, with many of the elderly crowd dancing along to their favourite classic songs in their chairs.
One of them was 93-year-old Helen Buchan, from Bearsden, Glasgow. She visited Blackpool Tower more than 70 years ago.
She remembered: “I loved the Foxtrot and the Tango, but I must have been about 22 when I went to Blackpool.
“It was always a popular holiday place for friends and family and the ballroom was always so bright and beautiful.
“This afternoon has really taken me back to those dancing days – it’s fantastic!”
On the dance floor, 99-year-old Cliff Porteous from Edinburgh was waltzing with dancer Ali King. Cliff has never been to Blackpool, but he said the event brought him back to a time when dancing was the main part of social life in the Capital. He admitted: “I like dancing, but I’m not great at it. I am by no means an expert!
“If I can manage to do wee bits and pieces, I still quite enjoy it. This afternoon has really brought back memories of old dance halls, and especially the old school dances.”
Marion Durie, the social leisure manager at Cluny Lodge, said, “The event went really well, the residents thoroughly enjoy something like this.
“For us, it’s about quality of life and making everyday fun. We have very frail residents here and this gives everyone the opportunity to socialise on a normal basis.
“It’s a trip down memory lane. Not everyone has a memory of Blackpool, but they all have a memory of dancing and for days the residents have been talking about their own personal journey, influenced by dancing when they were younger, from their marriages to their youthful passions.
“So many of them can connect with Blackpool Tower and this experience is invaluable for people.”
Originally constructed in 1894, and made famous by its wobbly nature in high winds, Blackpool Tower is still an active tourist destination in the 21st century, bringing in thousands of visitors every year from both home and abroad.
The Victorian ballroom has been open since 1899 and hosts the Strictly Come Dancing tour as well as several other dancing competitions throughout the year.
Kenny Mew, Blackpool Tower’s general manager was born in Scotland and has worked at the attraction for more than 25 years, working his way up from selling fish and chips to running the site.
He said: “I know from my own childhood what Blackpool means for Scots.
“It felt right that in our 125th year we took a piece of Blackpool up north to those who can no longer visit.
“The reaction so far has been fantastic and has made the whole day worthwhile. We want in our 125th birthday year to really celebrate the people that make Blackpool Tower. It’s thanks to them that we’re still here all these years on.”
The dancing residents at Cluny Lodge fondly remember the Plaza Ballroom on Morningside Road, which these days is occupied by a Waitrose, and the now demolished Palais de Danse, with its famous rotating dance floor, in Fountainbridge.
But, nevertheless, for thousands of Scots in the 1950s, the flagship dancing venue for that long-awaited holiday week was the Blackpool Tower Ballroom with its grand tower soaring more than 500 feet over the Irish Sea.
The Blackpool Tower Ballroom will continue to visit care homes throughout Scotland until May 2020, providing random acts of kindness to those who may no longer be able to travel down to their old favourite holiday destination, but who remember the glory days of dancing
Elderly men and women who once jitterbugged, sidestepped and waltzed across old Scottish dance floors, and sought love, friendship or just some old-fashioned fun, know of a time when dancing was a very different craft.
For the next few months, like the residents of Cluny Lodge, they might well find that their ballroom of the past has come to visit them to kindly mark their dance card one more time.
The Blackpool Tower is celebrating its 125th with a year-long programme of activities. For more information, visit www.theblackpooltower.com.