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There are no villains here

Summerland explores the collective memory of a tragedy, comparing images that offer alternatives to the stark reality that is yet to be accepted. The comparison asks questions about the relationship between memories and truth, and about how photographs can be used as evidence of reality, of memory, and of trauma.

An island and its people bear the scars of tragedy and loss, but forty-five years on justice has not been achieved for them. This project aims to widen the current dialogue around collective memory, while providing a voice to those affected by the Summerland tragedy. 

Summerland opened in 1971 in Douglas, Isle of Man, and was hailed as marking the dawn of a new era of British leisure architecture. The Summerland concept was new and made the Isle of Man complex unique, not just for Britain, but for the world too. It was described in a promotional booklet as a ‘new concept in leisure’ whose innovative design would ‘set the architectural world alight’.

On the 2nd August 1973, a fire broke out which quickly engulfed most of the building. As panic began to spread amongst the 3,000 visitors inside, a highly flammable material known as Oroglass that lined most of the glass façade allowed the fire to quickly rip through the structure. In the chaos of the fire, 50 people lost their lives.

Though the tragedy led to changes in building design and safety planning the world over, the official report failed to hold anyone responsible for the fire or the criminally negligent circumstances that all but ensured such a tragedy would happen. It proved to be one of the worst days in the island’s history, but the way it has been remembered is anything but coherent. In the years following the centre was rebuilt on a smaller scale before being razed to the ground in 2004. The site sits derelict today, where the scars and foundations of the original centre serve as a reminder of tragedy.