Weston's Grand pier
PUBLISHED: 12:29 05 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:39 20 February 2013
Billed as the ultimate indoor theme park, Weston-super-Mare's new-look Grand Pier has something for everything.
Billed as the ultimate indoor theme park, Weston-super-Mares new-look Grand Pier has something for everyone. Words by Sarah Ford
For Matthew Cheek, Westons Grand Pier is almost like a member of his family. It has been a part of his life for over 17 years. He worked there as a youngster and now holds the post of Cash Office and Collections Supervisor, so it is perhaps understandable to hear Matthew describe 28 July 2008 as the worst day of his life.
People watched in dismay as a blaze engulfed this much-loved landmark and the 75-year-old art deco pavilion was reduced to a tangled mess of metal. As tributes poured in to local newspaper, the Weston Mercury (a sister Archant publication), news also spread around the world.
The devastated owners, Kerry and Michelle Michael, vowed to rebuild and create a premier year-round attraction; and they have kept to their word. Last October they unveiled a 51m world-class venue. Recently, Kerry and Michelle Michael have been rewarded for their efforts with a Bristol Blue Glass plate presented by the National Piers Society. It is the first time the society has presented such an award and it is in recognition of the speed with which the pavilion was rebuilt and the quality of the finished attraction.
In its first 19 days, more than 500,000 people were drawn to the pier, with its karting track, crazy house, and 4D cinema. The Formula One simulator and the mirror maze have also proved a huge hit with all ages, while the more courageous thrillseekers have been braving the other exciting rides.
A number of celebrities, among them John Cleese, on a return visit to his home town, were treated to a special tour of the attraction during a glamorous black-tie event on the pier, which raised 215,000 for charities.
Now, as the summer season kicks off in the popular resort of Weston-super-Mare, more people than ever will be strolling down the decking and into this state-of-the-art pavilion which graces the Somerset coastline.
Matthew takes a break in one of the piers new caf areas and tells me there really is something here for everyone, whether you want to play on the slot machines, take your small children to a play area, have some fish and chips in the Boardwalk Caf or relax on the outside terrace with a drink from the bar.
If you cant find something on here to do then you might as well sit in your bedroom and do nothing! he smiles.
Matthew, who was born in Weston and studied at Bristol University, has had different jobs on the pier over the years, but says he has finally found his perfect role.
If I had known when I was a little kid that there was a job sitting in an office counting money all day then I would have said: Thats what I want to do!
Matthew also had the arduous task of sorting through all the coins that had been melted and twisted by the fire, breaking them up and pressure washing them so that they would be accepted by the bank.
Some lumps were so mixed up we couldnt do anything with them. It was not as much fun as counting buckets of clean 2ps, and the job took us weeks.
Matthew says his favourite ride on the pier is the go-kart track,which is nearly 300m long, runs over two levels and can be set at any speed up to 60mph.
One of the engineers who keeps all the rides safe and operational is Dan Bazell. We come in first thing to check they are safe for the public to use, do a test cycle and then hand them over to the operatives, he explains.
We have 14 major rides here and my favourite is the Robocoaster, which I appreciate as an engineer. Ive used lots of similar techniques, for example in the car industry, but never just for fun!
The two stunning Formula One simulators have been a great success. They are exactly the same as the ones used by professional Formula One drivers when in training.
There are only four in the country, two of which are with a Formula One team and the only two publicly accessible Formula One racing simulators are here.
Dan remembers visiting the pier with his grandmother, when he was just seven years old.
I never expected I would be working here one day. The variety of the job appealed to me. I can be repairing robotics and lasers one day, and Victorian-style penny pulls with cogs and wheels the next.
No traditional seaside pier would be complete without the haunted house, dodgems, arcade games, crazy house and helter skelter and the Grand Pier has it all. Not only that, but this all-weather indoor theme park also offers a range of rooms for events, including exhibitions, conferences, banquets and childrens parties. And the attraction is also a unique wedding venue.
Tinchy Stryder was the first headline act to perform at the pier and other events are planned throughout the year.
Personally, I can live without the excitement of the freefall ride or the thrill of being flung into the air by the Robocoaster, but on a nice sunny day in Weston-super-Mare, I would be more than happy to enjoy a cup of tea on the terrace and admire the breathtaking views across the town and out to sea.