Understanding Britain’s coastal regions

22nd Oct 2018

Social enterprises are changing the world for the better.  Re-investing profit back into their local communities, they play a key role in tackling some of the biggest challenges in society by improving people’s life chances, provide training and employment opportunities, and helping the environment.  But the sad truth is, in some areas of the UK, social enterprises are in short supply and are in desperate need of support.

It wasn’t too long ago that many people will have just returned from a relaxing break at one of the UK’s favourite seaside resorts. But in some coastal areas, life isn’t always a sunny holiday.  Our research with Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of The Big Issue, shone a light on the ‘economic health’ of Britain’s coastal regions.  By harnessing the power of data and analytics, we acquired a deeper understanding about these regions. This allowed us to pinpoint the areas with significant problems and identify where the greatest level of investment and support is required. 

Our findings discovered a mixed picture. Although some coastal towns are thriving, the majority have lower numbers of younger residents, fewer education qualifications, high numbers of people with health problems and lower average incomes than the populations in inland towns. Plymouth and Blackpool were among those with the deepest economic challenges.

As you might expect, there are more elderly people living in UK seaside areas. 26% of coastal populations are older versus 23% inland. Education qualification levels are generally lower. 23% of coastal residents have no qualifications, compared to 25% of inland residents and the proportion with higher qualifications is also lower – 24% as opposed to 28%.  There are also more people of working age with health problems – 6.7% in coastal towns compared to 5.7% in inland areas, and more people with incomes of less than £15,000 a year

Among the areas which are flourishing are Clacton, Skegness and Bridlington, which are examples of Senior coastal areas with a high number of retirees with decent levels of disposable income. Meanwhile, people in Salcombe, Stonehaven and Lyme Regis enjoy a Comfortable lifestyle. Brighton, Southampton and Bournemouth are Developing towns with a younger population along with significant areas of affluence.

As the data demonstrates, the picture is nuanced. There are pockets of significant wealth on our coastline, but also many locations in need of investment and repair.  The findings of our data-driven research will enable Big Issue Invest to better target social enterprises who need financial support to kick start or grow their businesses.  This will be a welcome boost for local communities situated in these coastal areas, who will benefit from the introduction of new or better funded social enterprises.  

The 10 areas selected for funding are:

Middlesbrough (North)

Irvine (Scotland)

Rhyl (Wales)

Margate (South East)

Blackpool (North West)

Great Yarmouth (East Anglia)

Plymouth (South West)

Grimsby (Yorkshire and Humber)

Hastings (South East)

Skegness (East Midlands)


Seaside Towns – a mixed economic picture:



Most financially and socially stretched. High % without qualifications, many struggling to find employment. Higher % vacant shops




The least financially stretched coastal places. A more affluent resident base, much fewer vacant shops and lower levels of unemployment


Portsmouth (South East)

Salcombe (South West)

Middlesbrough (North)

Stonehaven (Scotland)

Plymouth (South West)

Lyme Regis (South West)

Blackpool (North West)

Portishead (South West)

Saltcoats (Scotland)

Woodbridge (East Anglia)




High % of retirees, higher levels of affluence



Younger population than other coastal towns, with pockets of significant affluence


Clacton (South East)

Brighton (South East)

Skegness (East Midlands)

Southampton (South East)

Bridlington (Yorkshire and Humber)

Bournemouth (South West)

Frinton on Sea (South East)

St Andrews (Scotland)

Mablethorpe (East Midlands)


Edinburgh Leith (Scotland)

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