Splashes of colour. Beach huts brighten the pandemic gloom in the United Kingdom.

In her yellow-and-white striped beach hut, Melanie Whitehead boils the kettle for a cup of tea and sits gazing out over the North Sea. Brightly painted wooden huts like hers line England's coastline and have enjoyed a boom during the pandemic, as people rediscover seaside breaks close to home.

In the resort of Walton-on-the Naze in Essex in eastern England, beach huts run along the shore for miles, in some places rising up in five tiers. They have sold for over Pound 80,000 [$111,000], said Barry Hayes of Boyden's estate agent, based in the adjoining resort of Frinton-on-Sea.

That amounts to nearly a third of the Pound 255,000 average house price in the UK, but it's far from a record; a hut in Dorset on the Channel coast sold for Pound 330,000 this month.

Despite such astronomical prices, the huts are basic : most lack water or electricity and staying the night is prohibited. As huge waves crash onto the esplanade at Walton-on-the-Naze, inhabitants read books and newspapers, snooze or chat, often in multi-generational groups.

'Endless cups of tea'

Huts have names such as Paradise Found and Serenity. Outside one, a group of women are drinking prosecco, celebrating 60 years of friendship since primary school.

Whitehead, a 49-year-old former town planner, does not use her hut FOR ITS historic purpose of changing into a swimming costume. ''I really hate swimming and going into the water,'' she said. She is clear about its real purpose : to ''make endless cups of tea.'' 

The hut, which she bought in 2008 for Pound 6,000, has proved a welcome getaway during the pandemic when her husband and daughter were both at home constantly. It has white-painted walls and narrow couch topped with a patchwork quilt and colourful blankets she crocheted herself.

A gas cylinder powers a hob and oven, which she uses to bake scones. '' It's perfect. It comes into its own on a horrible day,'' Whitehead said.

As a seasoned beach hut owner, she is well aware of the pitfalls, however: the need for regular repairs and the risk of vandalism by bored teenagers. As a chairman of the local hut association, Whitehead carries out regular patrols. Many owners live far away and can't keep an eye on their huts, she said. 

Many huts are also rented out by the day, some offering Instagram-worthy features such as cocktail bars or table football.

Sarah Stimson, who runs a rental business called Walton-on-the Naze Beach Huts, says this has been her best year yet. All her huts are fully booked until September. For an upcoming client, she is arranging a photographer and cream tea delivery. He plans to surprise his wife with a proposal to renew their wedding vows.

Stimson, 46, used to commute to London to head a charity that promotes diversity in the PR industry. Wanting to spend more time with her family, she and her husband started their business three years ago with three huts. Now, they are renting out seven of their own and managing three more.

The pandemic-related surge in prices means Stimson's family has no current plans to buy more, though. Prices have roughly doubled in a year. An average hut in Printon-on-Sea, seen as more upmarket than Walton-on-the-Naze, goes from Pound 50,000 to Pound 60,000.

As changes to rules on foreign travel make planning holidays difficult, the uncertainty will keep the interest in local beach huts inflated for the time being. Whatever the market does, Whitehead is not going anywhere. '' I can get snug in here, look at the view and forget about the world,''

The World Students Society thanks News Desk / The Express Tribune.


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