Perhaps precisely because it is beautiful — with its wild and rugged coastlines, artistic vibe, soft clear light, radiant blues — it’s easy to miss a darker side. Cornwall is one of the poorest regions in Britain and northern Europe.
Fifteen constituencies in the county rank among the most deprived areas in Britain, according to national statistics.
In an area of St. Ives, where the G-7 leaders are staying at the Tregenna Castle Hotel, built on the site of a former stately home, more than a third of children are estimated to be living in poverty.
For many residents, the notion of leaders of the world’s richest nations swanning into town — posing for pictures with Queen Elizabeth II, all the while surrounded by the struggling economy just outside the “ring of steel” erected for summit security — is more than a little jarring.
“People are cross because Cornwall is one of the poorest parts of the country. We have very low wages here, we haven’t got any big industries,” said Ailsa Johnson, a retired nurse.
“The contrast between the luxury hotels and that there are many on benefits and at food banks is quite stark,” she said.
The choice of location for the summit, which wraps up Sunday, was personal for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has spoken of his “pride in being probably the first half-Cornish Prime Minister.” Johnson’s father, Stanley Johnson, was born in the Cornish town of Penzance, and the British papers have unearthed photos of the prime minister’s grandmother on the same beach where his wife, Carrie Johnson, and first lady Jill Biden walked barefoot on Thursday.
There is some hope that the summit might contribute to an economic lift. The government estimated that the gathering will bring 50 million pounds — roughly $70 million — into the region. Johnson also announced 65 million pounds — about $92 million — for local projects in three towns to create a “fitting legacy” of the summit.
But whether this economic impact will be enough to change the fortunes of the area is another matter.
Before Britain left the European Union, Cornwall received more E.U. funding than any other area of the country, supporting initiatives such as the Eden project, which features ecological bio-domes, where the queen hosted a reception for G-7 leaders. The government says that funding will be replaced by a successor arrangement called the U.K. Shared Prosperity Fund, available to all of Britain.
There is also trepidation that a spotlight on the region could mean more seasonal visitors buying second homes, putting prices out of reach for many locals.
Traditional industries have died. The chimneys of tin and copper mines that dot Cornwall’s granite cliffs are a reminder of industries that once thrived. The former mining town of Camborne, a 20-minute drive from the sandy expanse at the summit site in Carbis Bay, is among the poorest areas in the region. The last tin mine in Europe here closed in 1998, after more than four centuries of mining. Today, a newly built homeless shelter sits next to the mine shaft.
Roger Chegwidden, 30, is staying at the shelter after the local government moved him from separate hotel accommodation to free up space for G-7 officials, he said. He said the British government should focus on problems closer to home: “Don’t try to run before you can walk.”
Cornwall has a burgeoning green movement, and the local area here is hopeful for a mining revival with the discovery of lithium and geothermal energy. But those areas are still in development and may provide limited employment opportunities.
The fishing industry, meanwhile, is in crisis. Hopes that Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union would free fisherman from hated quotas have been dashed, while exports to the continent have been bogged down with red tape.
And so the region depends on tourism — the spending of “emmets,” a Cornish term for ants and for holidaymakers from “up country.”
Former prime minister David Cameron bought a vacation home here in 2017. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has hosted David and Victoria Beckham at his Cornwall home.
The region has been even more popular in the pandemic. With travel abroad not an option — and with remote workers realizing they can take Zoom calls from anywhere — people have descended on the sandy beaches and tiny fishing villages.
Real estate agents have said people are snapping up homes without even coming to view them.
All that helps fill the local property tax coffers. But with traditional granite Cornish cottages in high demand as second homes and rental properties, outside buyers have hollowed out communities. Many locals are forced to live in cheaper, newly built homes on the outskirts of popular villages.
“A lot of people don’t want Cornwall shown off anymore,” said Jeff Reines, editor at CornwallLive.
“The G-7 probably hit at the wrong time. Because they don’t want Cornwall on the map. They’d rather have it taken off the map and people kind of forgot about it,” he said.
Carbis Bay has always been more of a seaside resort, gaining popularity during a boom in British beach holidays at the turn of the 20th century when the Carbis Bay Hotel — the main venue for the G-7 summit — was built.
The hotel sits above one of the few privately owned beaches in Cornwall, which enabled it to be closed off for the summit. But it has otherwise always been open to the public.
The enclosed bay, with calmer waters than the roaring nearby surf beaches of St. Ives, are a particular draw for families with young children who in years gone by set up striped windbreakers on the golden sands lined with small beach huts.
In recent years, the beach huts have been ripped down and replaced by the hotel’s luxury beach lodges.
Ray Kershaw, 59, a construction worker, said he’s used to working on million-dollar homes around Cornwall that “aren’t for the locals.”
“You’re in one of the poorest areas in the U.K. right now,” he said, taking a break from working on a house in Camborne to talk to a Post reporter. “There are people here with no jobs, no food, no homes, really. The G-7 or British government isn’t helping that.”
Morris reported from Berlin.