Sunday, 16 August 2009

Arts Regeneration in British Seaside Towns

Very interesting article on arts regeneration in The Guardian within various British seaside towns including Margate. The statement from Nick Ewbank, creative director of Folkestone's Creative Foundation is really inspirational:

"Our first priority has been to make Folkestone a better place to live. Education is at the heart of that. If more tourists come, too, that's a happy byproduct. But this is a long-term commitment. These are 125-year leases at zero rent." His advice to other towns: "It's not that there is a finite capacity for museums and galleries; it doesn't work like that. But you need to trust in local communities to be distinctive. It's not about parachuting stuff in. Nor is it about copying someone else's model."

My experience of living in Italy where the model of the Centro Sociale is prevalent in many towns and cities has shown me that real people and real projects can flourish if they are given the space and a roof over their heads in which to work. Ideas that foster exchange of skills and development of creative ideas have to be in place for anything like a real creative quarter to come into existence. Then living in Hackney for 10 years through its key regeneration phase where vast amounts of money were spent on developing a creative quarter, which I experienced that to really be in name only.

We saw artists that had made Hoxton and Shoreditch an interesting place to live and work then forced out by high rents. Instead of moving to Hackney Central near the Town Hall, the area designated by the Local Authority as the "Cultural Quarter" they ended up populating Dalston and Hackney Wick in an organic process. Again fueled by affordable large available studio space in unused industrial buildings and shops. Whereas in the ten years of living in Hackney Central, despite there being proposals that identified the need for affordable studio space, little were forthcoming. In the end when I looked around the Cultural Quarter, all I saw was The Hackney Empire, which was already there and had had to achieve funding itself. The ill fated Ocean Music venue which cost in excess of £20m and went into administration after 18 months and remains a venue that is under used and limps along. There is a Whethersoons pub. In reality the real regeneration that Hackney underwent was driven by what I would term as real activity by real people. I don't know much about Folkestone, but it seems that finding a way to turn vacant property as an appealing resource to encourage real creatives to move in and function long term is a sensible idea.

It's really great to read that a journalist has great affection for Margate and can see the potential and the past quality of the town. It would be great if Margate can shake off this idea that it is lying in wait for the Turner and show that it is really able to provide a supportive environment for creative industries and people who wish to move and work here.


  1. Bugger me – Rachel prefers Margate!

    Having spent parts of last week filling newspaper columns with rebuttal of Rachel Cooke’s 9 August piece on Broadstairs, as Parish and District Councillor, it is with a real sense of irony that I revisit those same columns, as Kent County Councillor, to congratulate her on ‘Can art put new heart into seaside towns’, with it’s generous description of what is being attempted in the regeneration of Margate. KCC, TDC, and many others have been working assiduously, often through a barrage of criticism, to breathe new life into Margate, with all its known and acknowledged difficulties, and it is welcome to hear, once again, that visitors can see the energy and effort that is part of that vision.

    I read with even greater irony, that Rachel, upon visiting Margate did what I urged her to do in Broadstairs, walk and explore to find the corners of joy that inhabit both towns, and others down the coast, such as Deal and Hastings. I am left slightly bemused as to how Rachel could get the two towns so very differently judged, although the basis of the pieces shows one tantalising change.

    Rachel’s visit to Broadstairs appears to be at her own expense, and risk, with no real guidance as to what is here and how it all works. Margate, on the other hand, is visited by appointment to those tasked with selling the new vision, and with ready explanation for any concerns. Thus Rachel had no need to try and find fresh fish restaurants, or coffee on her own. Indeed in Littlehampton it is the new cafĂ© proprietors who take her on a tour of their establishments.

    However, the difference between paid assignment and holiday should not detract from some really positive press, again, on the way artistic endeavour can help regenerate towns like Margate, as has happened further down the coast and overseas. A fact so often seemingly lost on some other locally elected representatives.

    However, I predict Rachel’s most difficult moment is yet to come. A little local knowledge will tell her that she must now visit the third Thanet town, Ramsgate, to complete her comparative tour. I can at least reassure her I have no electoral responsibilities there, so she will be safe from my pen!

  2. SMALL Workshops like the ones in Victoria Road that are affordable help regenerate and if they have accomadation as well I would imagine they would be even more popular but TDC seem hell bent on high rates low returns policy and sod anyone who wants to start a small business