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Promettes set to return to Brighton and Hove seafront
Tourists heading down to the Brighton and Hove seafront are set for a warm welcome as a new initiative revives the 1950s Promette tradition.
With their distinctive sharply-cut uniforms, white gloves and catwalk model poise, the Promettes were on hand to give directions, offer medical advice or just bring a little sunshine into the lives of tourists to Brighton.
From their caravan headquarters, the team of six glamorous tourist advisers were a beloved landmark in Brighton for more than a decade after their inception in 1952.
Now the city’s marketing team at VisitBrighton are looking reinstate a 21st Century equivalent of these fashionable fountains of knowledge.
VisitBrighton is looking to recruit about 50 volunteers who will welcome visitors, offer help and advice on where to stay and what to see and direct people to the nearest Visitor Information Point as well as providing maps and information on the latest events and attractions.
The new volunteers will be slightly less sartorially elegant than their predecessors, in branded polo-shirts and cagoules, and will be stationed at key locations throughout the city including the Royal Pavilion, the train station and along the seafront.
VisitBrighton said it was looking to “harness some of London 2012’s sporting spirit” by introducing its own band of on-street volunteers.
New recruits will need to commit to a minimum of six months at a time, be available to cover a variety of shifts including weekends and be able to work for four hours at a time.
In return for their time, the volunteers will develop new skills with ongoing training and at the end of their six-month stint will be given a certificate of recognition for their work.
Other benefits include free admission to some of the city’s main tourism attractions and invitations to tourism-related openings and events.
The launch of the new scheme has been welcomed by former Promettes.
Audrey Page, from Brighton, was a Promette for the 1956 tourism season having heard about the role while at Vogue Mannequin School.
She said: “I think it’s a very good idea to bring them back, although things are a lot different now from how they were then.
“We used to help people with their chairs, posting their cards or if somebody got sunburnt or was not feeling well, telling them where they needed to go.
“Anyone doing it now will have to be quite knowledgeable. I think it will be a more difficult job than it was before. They are going to have to be ready for just about anything and carry quite a bit of information with them.”
Lorna Whitlock, from London, was Brighton’s chief Promette in 1959.
She said: “I was a teacher in London at the time and I found it very difficult to get a job after my summer as a Promette.
“I think it went down on my permanent record and they thought it was bad for the school’s image.
“I think the reason I applied in the first place was probably because I wanted to be an air hostess which I eventually did a year later with TWA in the States.
“There was a really big publicity thing around them and every girl wanted to be a Promette.
“It was like being a mini-celebrity. We were always being asked out. Guys used to dare each other to ask us out.”
Mrs Whitlock, nee Mason, said she was paid two guineas for a weekend’s work and combined that with working at the Royal Albion hotel.
As well as giving out train times to tourists, the Promettes were also used as hostesses and guides for foreign guests.
One of the highlights of her summer was meeting pop star Frankie Vaughan at the Hippodrome, although she was less keen on the distinctive uniforms.
She said: “I can remember exactly where the uniforms were made, in this little house off the Old Steine, and I remember us having them fitted.
“Miniskirts were in fashion, and winkle pickers, and I remember we were all very upset that we had to wear these horrible droopy skirts and we wanted them shortened.”
The new volunteer scheme is part of a major shake-up of tourist information in the city.
In September the Visitor Information Centre based next to the Royal Pavilion closed in a bid to save money.
The centre, which served tens of thousands of people a year, has been replaced with ten “pop-up” points across the city where tourists can pick up information.
VisitBrighton also already runs a Greeter scheme, in which volunteers take visitors around the city.
The return of the Promettes was cautiously welcomed by those working in the city’s tourism industry.
Nick Head, from the Sussex Tourism Partnership and owner of the Ambassador Hotel in New Steine, said: “I think it’s a lovely idea and a nice way to fly the flag but it won’t replace the visitor information centre, it’s not an adequate replacement.
“We used to get a bit of trade through the centre. We would probably get one booking a week from referrals.
“I don’t think this will bring in that much business to people but will create a lot of PR.
“A lot of people have smartphones and make their bookings on the way down in a car or on the train.
“But we still have an awful lot of people, especially older people and foreign guests, who rely on that kind of tourist information service.”
Geoffrey Bowden, chairman of the council’s economic development and culture committee, said: “This is a great opportunity for people to get involved and share their passion for the city with visitors.
“The scheme runs successfully in other cities around the world and worked brilliantly in London during the 2012 Olympics where it was suggested the contribution of volunteers turned what would have been a good games into a great games and a truly memorable experience for visitors.
“The role of the London Gamesmakers during the London Olympics shows how valuable volunteers can be.
“Many other iconic destinations use volunteers on the street to welcome visitors. Melbourne, for example, has a huge volunteer programme working with around 500 local residents volunteering their time to help visitors to their city.
“The volunteers will have the important role of welcoming visitors and responding to their enquiries.
“As volunteers they will not be expected to handle complex queries.”
However unions raised concerns about the use of unpaid volunteers to step in where previously skilled members at the now defunct Visitor Information Centre.
Alex Knutsen, of Brighton and Hove Unison, said: “We do have concerns about people doing this on a voluntary basis with no real recompense.
“We wouldn’t want to run down volunteering but it’s better to have skilled paid people with good knowledge of what’s available in the city for all the millions of visitors we have each year.
“With most of that information centre team going, it is a case of cutting off our noses to spite our face.
“We would have preferred to see if the people who benefit from the service, such as hotels, could be asked whether they would contribute to the costs of the centre.”
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