Bingo is a game of numbers and a conservative estimate puts the number of hours 88-year-old Mary Pitt has spent playing at Beacon Bingo in Marine Terrace at around 40,000.
That’s five years of winning and losing, five years of highs and lows but much more than that it is five years of investing into their rock solid community.
“I can tell you the name of every manager that’s been here for the last 30 years,” the Birchington pensioner tells me in the basement of their club. “I know who that is,” she says, pointing defiantly to a mane of shiny black hair, “just by looking at the back of her head- we’re a family here.”
Once as integral to the seaside as fish and chips, bingo halls up and down the coast and beyond have been quietly closing while slot machine outlets-such as Beacon’s next door neighbour Cashino – have never been busier; fixed-odd betting machines which national reports say feeds addiction and limits social interaction.
Bingo is a vehicle to bring people together, especially the elderly.
“We have a 96-year-old lady named Jean that comes here and this is our social club. We have had people in their 100s! It’s always busy here. I am not scared to tell them (owners) what I think,” Mary proudly says in a traditional Bermondsey accent.
“Mary tells it like it is” nods her friend Mel Williams who is perched next to her on the squishy sofa.”
This is their club, their social day out and a lifeline for many vulnerable who are collected on the ‘bingo bus’ from as far as Canterbury to come and play.
Manager Graeme Corner knows all his punters and brought in live entertainment for the weekends to generate business and attract a new clientele. “It is so sad as it’s a lovely community club and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here,” he says ruefully before striding across the room.
Cups of tea and coffee are handed out as sinister, space-age beeps of slot machines echo in the background.
Former X Factor contestant Steve Brookstein performed on Saturday and is part of regular live acts which can include anything from Stars in Your Eyes-style evenings to EastEnders actor, Steve McFadden.
“Well, he is very good you know,” says Mel referring to Brookstein.
Still, none of these measure were enough to save the club. The spectre of sweeping change over the coastline is never far away and with plans for the Dreamland Hotel recently approved this group of bingo lovers feel bewildered and bereft.
The cavernous Mecca bingo remains at Westwood Cross but the Beacon crowd say it has “no atmosphere” and the walk from the bus stop is too much for many pensioners.
Beacon was bought by firm Praesepe in 2011 and with 13 years left on the lease Mary and Mel wonder what is in store for the building.
“It’s terrible people are losing their jobs, they have worked here for years and what else is out there for them?” says Mary.
According to the firm’s CEO, Mark Schertle, after the venue closes on April 5 the firm will seek to redeploy the 25 jobs set to be axed.
Praesepe say the club has made a “significant trading loss” for the past few years despite the venue appearing busy to the customers. “What else is there for us to do in Margate?” says Mary. “We need a miracle.”