As part of a series of interviews with tourism and hospitality businesses in Coastal West Sussex, we spoke to James Hoare at The Beach @ Littlehampton, a beach club and café which offers water sports and other activities.

Tell us about The Beach café. What makes you different?

The vision for what we’re creating is a beach club. The person who takes you paddle boarding can also make you coffee.

There’s a lack of community hubs – we want people to come and spend the day with us and to provide something for the whole family.

Myself and my partners have travelled extensively in places like South Africa and Australia where they have lots of surf clubs and it’s really about the social side – that’s what we’re trying to do here. For us as kite surfers and wind surfers we love our time on the water but it’s the time spent meeting other people who share your passion that’s really important.

As well as all our water sports sessions, we host running clubs and we have training facilities and showers available. Our café is open from 7am onwards for cooked breakfasts plus we do lunches and evening meals, and we have a licensed bar.

How was it opening a business during the pandemic? How did you manage the crisis and how was it coming out of lockdown?

We only opened in May 2021, when we opened for takeaway, and then we opened fully in the summer when government guidelines allowed.

James Hoare, partner at The Beach @Littlehampton

In terms of the building work, getting any sort of materials was really tough at the start of the pandemic. But it was incredible to see how many people were happy to sit outside. Sea swimming also got really popular and lots of people wanted to learn to paddle board. While opening during that time was challenging, I think there was a bit of a shift in attitude and people really wanted to be outdoors – and they don’t mind queuing for a takeaway coffee.

Covid has given us a renewed sense of what we’re trying to achieve. What we want to build is that social space that people really missed during lockdown, and we don’t want people to lose sight of how good it feels to get out on the water and learn a new sport.

Post Covid, what is needed for the tourism/leisure and hospitality industries to thrive in Coastal West Sussex?

We’ve got huge issues with mental and physical health, which are undoubtedly linked. I do think government and local authorities could do more to remove some of the barriers to people being able to do sports. If we want to run a kite surfing event for example, it’s about a three-month process to get through the paperwork. One of our local councillors, Philippa Dart, has been fantastic – she’s been working hard to push through a new skatepark and other initiatives.

Business rates in hospitality are incredibly high, and so they should get smarter on how they tax different areas of industry. Businesses like ours should really be classed differently to a pub, for example. A big part of what we do is to aid physical health and wellbeing through being active with water sports.

How can the tourism industry be made more sustainable? What support is needed for businesses?  

We’ve all got a responsibility to cut emissions. It all comes back to cost unfortunately. We choose to use eco-friendly veg-ware rather than single use plastic for example, and we foot the bill for that. We could put that on to customers, but then it’s not competitive.

It would be nice to have more support – there needs to be a greater reward structure if you’re a business that chooses to be eco-friendly.

What are your aims for 2022?

We want to launch a membership so it becomes like a one stop shop – you can come in on a Saturday and there’s something for the kids to do as well as the adults. We plan to offer an affordable membership plan, allowing safe access on the water for all sorts of sessions – kite surfing, wind surfing, paddle boarding and more.