Selfie Bench ‘Scandal’ Hits Welsh Town

Imagine going to a cinema hall and finding the seats facing away from the screen. Or going to a tennis match and finding the seats facing away from the court.

Something similar has happened with two newly installed seaside benches in Porthcawl, Wales.

The benches have sparked off a controversy after it was noticed that they were facing away from the stunning sea view instead of towards it, Wales Online reported.

So instead of the beautiful Welsh coastline, people sitting on the two benches get a pristine view of the road, the traffic on the road, and a hotel across the road. If visitors are particularly desirous of seeing the sea, they have to crane their necks backwards and maintain that position diligently.

Correcting the position of the benches would have been the logical next step, but that didn’t happen.

The two benches were suddenly designated as the first dedicated “selfie benches” in the UK.

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The selfie bench idea is: you sit on the bench, take a selfie with the sea behind you, and that’s it. The bench has served its purpose, just the way it is, its position unchanged.

This bizarre “solution” to the wrong-sided benches is courtesy of the Bridgend Tourism Association, which has also patched together a “positive” social-media spin for the whole thing.

Hugh Murray, a director at the Bridgend Tourism Association, had these words of welcome for the public (via Wales Online).

“We are inviting anyone visiting Porthcawl’s esplanade to take their own bench selfie and share it on social media using the hashtag #SelfieBench.”

Murray explained to the BBC that “when people take a selfie [on the selfie bench] they have this amazing background behind them.” He said that the benches had “put Porthcawl on the map.”

The transformation of two ordinary benches into social-media-friendly “selfie benches” has a contentious backstory too.

Exactly where the two selfie benches are located now, used to stand two century-old, Victorian-style benches in pretty bad shape.

Both these old benches also faced the road, just like the new ones.

But one thing was different then.

The old benches had a hedge behind them, practically blocking the entire view of the sea. So it made sense that the old benches faced the road instead of the sea.

But now, the hedge has been removed. There is no obstruction behind the benches. So there is no reason for the new benches to be facing the road. The Bridgend County Borough Council perhaps didn’t take into account the hedge removal factor while orienting the new benches.

But the council holds Porthcawl Shout, an elderly people’s organization, responsible for the situation.

A council spokesman gave Wales Online their side of the story.

“After the original seats were removed due to their poor condition, members of Porthcawl Shout contacted the council to ask whether it would be possible to install two new replica seats with the Victorian-period ‘serpent’ design. The group specifically wanted the seats to be facing the road and to be visible, offering an alternative view for pedestrians taking a rest while walking along the seafront.”

Gary Victor, chairman of Porthcawl Shout, denied the council’s allegations, saying that Porthcawl Shout had nothing to do with the direction of the new benches.

“They [the council] decided that was where they were going to be put,” he said.

However, in a belated move to stem the wrong direction controversy, the council has decided to take some tough decisions.

A council spokesman described to BBC their plan of action.

“Due to the strength of public opinion, we will be changing the direction of one of the benches towards the sea so that visitors have a choice of which view they would prefer to face.”

Which still leaves one bench facing the wrong way, hostage forever to a social-media craze.

Do you think the labeling of the benches as “selfie benches” is an inspired move? Or is it a long-winded way of justifying a minor mistake?

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[Image via YouTube/ODN]