Friday 24 May 2013

Join in the Margate Cash Mob tomorrow at 12pm

Tomorrow, I'll be taking part in the first of the Margate CashMob events. Through Streets Ahead Margate and supported by WeWillGather, we're meeting at 12pm outside the old Claire's Accessories shop which is the opposite the newly opened Pop Up Margate (ex-Poportunity). They're actually opening tomorrow, so that's exciting to have a look at the new look store.

I'll have some bight yellow cashmob shopping bags. You won't miss us!

We'll be deciding where to go and spend our magic fivers in the High Street. There are also a number of businesses participating that have put on special #MargateCashMob offers for the day. For more info, head on over to the Streets Ahead Margate website, Facebook page and follow @StreetsAheadMar on twitter with the hashtag #MargateCashMob for updates.

This is all about getting people together to socialise and inject a bit of footfall and cash into local shops.

Hope to see you there!

Margate's #CelebrateTheSteps - It started with a Tweet

photo by Peter Davis

Last Saturday saw the coming-together of over 100 people to celebrate the opening of the £5.2 million sea defence steps on Margate's seafront, which are now finished and were completed under budget.

It all started with a single Tweet 5 days before: "Shall we organise our own opening ceremony for the sea defence steps next Saturday? Who's in for a quick celebration? #celebratethesteps

The power of social media combined with the town's positivity towards its newest addition, leading to locals being invited via Facebook pages belonging to local businesses and interest groups. The momentum and positivity grew rapidly from a discussion online to a real-life gathering. Further Tweets followed, with people "#celebratethesteps Tomorrow at 3pm. Let's do something great for #Margate together."

The call for a 'people's celebration' of the steps after the official opening by council workers the week before led to this gathering to express gratitude for what many see as a great new focal point for Margate.

At 2.50pm, local business owners put scribbled notes onto their doors letting customers know they were closing for 20 minutes and headed to the seafront.

Photo by Clive Sax
The sun shone as Julian Newick, landlord of Margate's Lifeboat Ale and Cider House, lead the countdown from 10 to welcome in the steps. As if by divine intervention, a fleet of 10 jet skis zoomed by as the gathering of locals with their children, dogs, picnics, balloons and bubbles, cheered and the sun beamed down. A positive day for Margate.

Photo by Clive Sax
The event reached 1,180 people on the Facebook event page where people are still posting pictures. 
Photo by Clive Sax

The Twitter stats are even more amazing:
Over just 5 days, 12,779 accounts reached and 28,134 impressions. Margate's Tweeps are a notable bunch of people as the now monthly  #TweetMeet organised by the lovely @lorrainecfoster has shown.

This event was promoted entirely by social media, it didn't receive coverage in print media ahead of the event taking place.

If you want to follow the tweets and posts about the event, it's been preserved on Storify for posterity. There is a shared online photo album of the event where people have been adding their pictures from the event:

Thursday 23 May 2013

Curious Margate

I'm so excited about the new exhibition, Curiosity: Art and the Pleasure of Knowing that opens tomorrow at Turner Contemporary. It sounds like it's going to be the perfect fit with Margate.

There's a walrus. A huge walrus that has made the journey from The Horniman Museum in South London to the seaside. His first move since 1890. He's also on Twitter as @HornimanWalrus. I recommend following him. In fact, this is possibly the best cross-platform-social-media-arts-community-engagement-doo-dah I've seen! It's all given even more umph by the power of Margate's social media community. Follow the hashtag #curiousmargate.

Margate is a town steeped in curiosity and mystery. I know that might sound  corny, but it's true. Some of my favourite places are still unsolved mysteries such as the Grade I Listed Shell Grotto and the labyrinth of tunnels and passageways under the Grade II listed Cliftonville Lido. The latter, of course, off-limits unless on an official guided tour by the developers at the moment. One of the other Margate places I was recommended to go by a local was the Powell Cotton Museum at Quex.  I then was told to go to check out RG Scotts up Grotto Hill. I wandered into the abandoned Countess of Huntingdon's Burial Ground by accident one sunny morning. I could go on. Curiosity and the curious were here long before the kiss-me-quick and it's all here to discover if you know where to look.

Each and every one of these places left me reeling with surprise on experiencing them for the first time. I wish I could go back and always walk in for the first time. And all of these things, these amazingly curious and wonderful things are here in one small town. Each more or less within walking distance of each other. Making Margate truly a safe bet for intrepid explorers of curious eccentricity.

Turner Contemporary have paired up with the artist Margherita Gramengna to develop a parallel show out throughout the town called Curious Margate. It will lead people to discover curiosity boxes out beyond the seafront gallery. Shops and businesses have really embraced the challenge. You shall see! Follow the Curious Margate Pinterest board.

Looking forward to a summer of Curious Margate. Be forever curious.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Optomen TV briefed that Margate people were mostly interested in seeing Mary and not their town

Serious questions were raised in a Parliamentary debate yesterday by Rochdale MP, Simon Danczuk, where he referred to the Optomen Television produced series, Mary Queen of the High Street as 'tawdry'. The Gazette have a feature on it on their shiny new website. Well done those at Gazette Towers for the new site. View the online debate.

The FOI released email that Mr 
Danczuk refers to is an email sent on June 29th 2012 that was sent from Mary Portas' then business partner, to a Government Officer, forwarding feedback from Optomen Television regarding a meeting they'd attended in the Portas Pilot TV Town of Liskeard. Optomen state that the people of Liskeard are 'genuinely interested citizens, unlike in Margate where the people there were mostly interested in seeing Mary'.

From: [OPTOMEN1] [mailto:Sent: Friday, June 29, 2012 04:43 PM
To: [OPTOMEN2]; [MP1]
Cc: Mary; [MP3]; [OPTOMEN3]
Subject: RE: liskeard
Hi [MP1]
This happened before we went to Liskeard and [DCLG3] mentioned it to us on the day. I think it’s all good. Here’s why:
- The councillors walked out of the meeting because 300 people turned up and were given the opportunity to vote (amazing. These were genuinely interested citizens, unlike in margate where the people there were mostly interested in seeing Mary). The councillors were upset because normally only people who have come to town forum meetinga twice before have the right to vote. (ie the councillors didn’t want 300 people to vote, only the usual bureaucrats)
- In tv terms the fight between the bureaucrats and the passionate citizens could be great.
- the mayor, who led the walk out, wants to redevelop the town to an inch of his life. He wants to turn the cattle market (c.a. 1260) into a supermarket.
This article is cleverly written to involve us but ultimately it’s not about us. It’s about two liskeard groups who want control over 100k. in addition to this: the retailers association voted unanimously to have the tv crews and Mary there.
The town team are over the moon about us being there. The mayor also welcomes us there (but may cause trouble when we don’t do what he wants us to do) Everyone is on board.
It’s going to be great!
From: [OPTOMEN2]
Sent: 29 June 2012 16:08
To: [MP1] Cc: [OPTOMEN1]; Mary; [MP3][OPTOMEN3]
Subject: Re: liskeard
Keep us posted.

Optomen couldn't have been more wrong. Here's our video from the June 12th public meeting event, which I think shows just how much Margate people were engaged and how different to the image portrayed in the Mary Portas programme of May 14th.

Saturday 18 May 2013

Celebrate the Steps - Margate seafront Saturday May 18th, 3pm

It started with a tweet last Saturday. Then came a hashtag #celebratethesteps. Then it spread to Facebook. And in the space of a week, it grew to what resulted in a sunny afternoon event with over a 100 people. (I think?).

Here's the story:

Wednesday 15 May 2013

GBPIzzaCo did a lovely thing...100 reasons to be cheerful, Margate

The Grocer on Mary Portas', Margate and what the FOIs reveal - The high-street circus continues

Fresh in from the Grocer Magazine:
"The Mary Portas road show continues: this week the Queen of the High Street’s Channel 4 show touched down in Margate, featuring yet more cockneys, market traders and claims of TV trickery. 
After last week’s episode in the Roman Road, which was not even a Portas Pilot, at least Mary was in the right place - although the jury is well and truly out about whether her presence has had the desired impact.
Within hours of broadcast, members of the original Margate town team – who walked out in protest last year, accusing Portas of being more interested in TV than in saving their shops – had announced they would be complaining to Ofcom about the show ‘fabricating’ events.
This came hours after Portas went on Radio Five to explain how she felt she had been misadvised in her handling of the ‘Tsar’ role and had inadvertently ended up as public enemy number one. You couldn’t really make it up if you were to sit down and write a guide of how not to run a government programme to save the High Street.
The sad fact is all the good ideas Portas and her review had in 2011are in danger of being drowned out by this side show, while so little has actually been done on the ground.
In the case of Margate, a freedom of information (FOI) request seen by The Grocer shows just £2,156.21 of the £100,000 of taxpayers’ money given to the town had been spent as of the end of March.
This isn’t even the biggest tragedy. The solution to the High Street isn’t a quick fix, solved by throwing money around. It needs strategic thinking at government level, adapted by well co-ordinated local initiatives. Instead, information in FOIs seen by The Grocer is painful to behold. It reveals the incredible extent to which the government – and especially former local government minister Grant Shapps and his team – allowed its policy on the high street to be dictated by Portas and her TV crew.
In one email from Portas’ team to the minister’s cronies, the plight of Liskeard, next week’s chosen subject for the show, is highlighted. The scene, we discover, is perfect. Local councillors and residents are at each other’s throats, not least over plans for an out-of-town supermarket. “In TV terms the fight between the bureaucrats and the passionate citizens could be great,” says the email.
This is an email to the government department supposed to be helping rescue the High Street. It’s beyond belief almost that this sort of nonsense was the way the department was being run.
It gets even worse: in other correspondence between the two camps, the government team was asked to advise the Queen of Shops on a small problem. She had been contacted by the Welsh Assembly for help in tackling ailing shops. “Pls could you ask Grant for his advice on engaging or not,” says the Portas team. “We haven’t really got the time but would like your help with how to deal with this.”
The government’s advice: “It really is up to you. But if you are too busy, I would suggest you just say that Mary is very busy at the moment - and not currently engaged by Her Majesty's Government - but is keeping in touch with Department of Local Government (DCLG) officials as we implement our response to her report.” So not just one government but two have been drawn into this circus, with the DCLG acting virtually as her new political adviser to fend off the Welsh. It would all be funny – a bit like some of the scenes from the TV show – if it weren’t so tragic."
Ian Quinn

Press Release - Former Margate Town Team Members response to Mary Queen of the High Street, May 14th 2013

Press Release
Wednesday May 15th 2013

Last night's screening of Mary Portas' Mary Queen of the High Street produced by Optomen Television (May 14th 2013, Channel 4) told a story which is contradicted by the records we hold as former members of Margate Town Team.

We will be publishing full details of our concerns with the programme today and taking forward an official complaint to OFCOM. In particular, we will be making a complaint under Section 7 of the Broadcasting Code, about fairness.

As we were concerned prior to transmission with the direction of the programme, we have asked Optomen Television for a right of reply. This was refused on April 30th:

"we do not feel that this is required as we make no allegations or criticisms of you in the Programme."

Far from being an accurate record of events surrounding Margate Town Team, Optomen has created, and Channel4, broadcast a fabricated a storyline against early members of the Town Team which runs contrary to what actually happened.

There are several key differences between the programme that aired last night and what actually happened. We believe that the facts show that Optomen Television's behaviour was a key influence in the story playing out in the way that it did.

The Portas Pilots were meant to bring communities together. The activities of the programme makers have brought conflict to a struggling community, leaving the original bid team that secured Government funding for their town disappointed and undermined. 

Optomen Television were uninterested in filming the Town Team's many efforts to bring their winning bid to the people of Margate, yet have presented a programme that seeks to show how Margate Town Team were unwelcoming and hostile to Mary Portas and Optomen Television. Margate Town Team were not invited to meet or speak with Mary Portas before they filmed the staged conflict scene on the steps of Woolworths on June 12th.

Robin Vaughan-Lyons (Former Chairman, Margate Town Team)
Roxana Tesla (Former Vice-Chairman, Margate Town Team)
Louise Oldfield (Former Secretary & Press Officer, Margate Town Team)

07932 713292

Monday 6 May 2013

Mary Portas show lobbied government officials

The Guardian's Randeep Ramesh has published an article showing what we in the original bid team had suspected all along; That there was a closeness between Mary Portas' TV production company and the government at the highest level. This explains so much of what has happened to me and my colleagues over the last 12 months. I need to let this sink in. But obviously when we went to the government for help in dealing with Optomen TV, well, it was a hotline to the TV company.

The PR machine for Channel 4 and Optomen TV has already started with the trailers running for the show. The series starts tomorrow with Roman Road, Margate on the 14th and Lisekard on the 21st.

TV company put forward suggestions for towns to be selected as pilots

Film-makers working with the celebrity shopping guru Mary Portas on her reality TV show lobbied government officials to direct taxpayer funds to high streets because they would be popular with television audiences, documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.
The funding for the so-called "Portas pilots" was part of a high-profile government policy to renew town centres. Portas produced a 28-point plan on how to revive moribund town centres for David Cameron in December 2011. Less than six months later, from almost 400 entries, more than two dozen towns – the Portas pilots – were picked to receive £100,000 of state support and advice each. On Tuesday Portas fronts the first of three hour-long programmes in a series on Channel 4, Mary: Queen of the High Street, focusing on three winning bids.
The Guardian has established that the production company hired by Channel 4 and Portas's staff suggested some locations for winning bids. In one example, the production crew advocated taxpayers' cash for a deprived part of London because "social history is currently really popular on television".
The government's high-profile policy was handed to the local government minister, Grant Shapps, early last year. In February he wrote to the retail expert saying there would have to be "clear blue water between the selection of the pilots and the television show. This will be best achieved by me selecting the pilots, with [Portas's] Yellow Door and [TV production company] Optomen having no involvement."
The Portas team proposed a list of favoured choices. Government emails, released under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that on 13 April last year a Portas agency director emailed Shapps's private secretary to say: "We already have our proposed 12 [Portas pilots]." Four days later, the same director emailed David Morris, the civil servant in charge of the pilots, to say: "We have now done some early reviewing of the entries with Mary and have come to an early shortlist from our end", adding a list of 13 towns.
Morris responded 24 hours later to warn the Portas agency that "we need to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest between pilot selection and the TV show – which are separate projects". When the first list of 12 Portas pilots was announced by the government from 371 entries on May 24 last year, it included three of Yellow Door's favoured high streets: Croydon, Market Rasen and Stockport.
A spokesperson for Portas denied that Portas had sought to influence the government's selection process. Channel 4 and Optomen also strongly deny any attempt to influence the process.
One of the high streets selected for filming, Roman Road in East London, did not make the initial top dozen pilots. In an email, Optomen explained to Morris that Channel 4 "loved" the idea of renovating an East End market: "Social history is currently really popular on television and Roman Road would be the perfect road to bring back to its former glory." The second tranche of pilots offered another opportunity for it to receive funding. On May 28 London mayor Boris Johnson announced a £300,000 fund for three more pilots.
Forty-eight hours later, Optomen wrote to Morris to ask: "Do you know when Boris is planning to announce his towns and whether there will be another call for submissions? Will this be going through your office or his? Roman Rd is on top of our list and we're still hopeful that all our towns are part of the government selected towns, hence the question."
Morris replied a week later after a meeting with the Greater London Authority, who he said "are aiming to work to the same timetable as us – but they will be making the selections. I have told them you are interested in Roman Road! … Are Ch4 interested in any of the others?" There is no suggestion that the mayor was influenced by Portas or the TV project.
Two months later, the government announced that among the threesuccessful Portas pilots "selected by the mayor" and receiving "funding from the Greater London Authority" was one in Tower Hamlets that included Roman Road. The first Portas hour-long reality show centres on the renewal of the east London market. When contacted, the mayor's office said it was only "part-funding" the Tower Hamlets pilot with local council cash used to update Roman Road.There were also an impression within government that TV pilots were getting more attention than those high streets not featured by Channel 4. In early June civil servants emailed to ask if Portas' agency "could clarify … what additional support those who agree to filming will get". One government official told Yellow Door: "I am aware of two pilot areas where they have been told – one by your office and one by Optomen that they would only get Mary's time if they signed up for the TV series."
In Margate, which features in the second episode of the Channel 4 series, the original bid-winning team resigned and the town split over the pilots, with some claiming Portas had threatened to withdraw cash unless the cameras were let in. A spokesperson for Mary Portas said this was "well documented".
A month later, on the eve of the announcement of the second round of 15 Portas pilots, the celebrity told the government she would not be "personally involved" in supporting the winners – in effect withdrawing from the scheme.Half the second round pilots have yet to spend any of the £1.5m allocated to them.
Labour claims the emails show the government was more interested in "publicity than public policy". Roberta Blackman-Woods, the shadow local government minister, said: "The government promised their Portas pilots scheme would lead the way for proper regeneration on the high street. Now it appears the real intention of this competition was to mask the government's abject failure to support businesses at the heart of our communities."
A spokesperson for Mary Portas said: "Any suggestion that Mary was involved in influencing the government's selection of Portas pilot towns is categorically untrue.
"Early correspondence between Yellow Door and the government simply reflected a former employee's enthusiastic response to the hundreds of inspirational video pilot applications. The government clarified protocol and there was no influence by Yellowdoor on the selection of the Portas pilot towns whatsoever.
"Mary's work preparing the Portas review for the government, and her subsequent and ongoing advice, is unpaid. In July last year Mary let the government know that she was stepping back from personal involvement in the second round of Portas pilot towns. This in no way diminishes from her commitment to the high street campaign."
Channel 4 said: "The final decision on selecting Portas pilot towns always rested with the government and at no point did Channel 4 make any attempt to influence that decision or government policy. We strongly dispute that anything was constructed. We are aware of a number of complaints – many of which are in the public domain – and the programme fairly and accurately portrays events as they happened during filming."
A spokesperson for Optomen said: "[We] had no influence over or involvement in the selection of the Portas pilot towns, which was solely a decision for the government. The programme tells the story of what occurred when Mary went to work with three towns that applied to be Portas pilots. More of Mary's time would inevitably be spent in the towns featured in the series. No sweeteners or financial inducements were offered or made by Optomen to the towns to encourage their participation in the programme. Great care has been taken to ensure that the programme is a fair and honest representation of Mary's work in these towns."
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: "We have always been completely clear that the 27 Portas pilots were selected for the leadership, commitment and innovation shown in their application, that Mary Portas had absolutely no role in choosing the towns, and that their status as Portas pilots was in no way dependent on their participation in any show."