HomeUncategorizedA new life for Britain's seaside towns

A new life for Britain’s seaside towns

(Image credit: Fascinating Photography / Getty Images)

Beach resorts across the UK have struggled in recent decades, but Folkestone, Hastings and Margate – once frequented by the royal family – are wisely reinventing themselves through art art.


The Grand Burstin cannot be mistaken. This massive 550-bed hotel, shaped like an ocean liner and round with disrepair, stands tall over Folkestone harbor and the English Channel. Last November, several renderings from the façade above its main entrance peeled off without warning. and two hotel guests had to be taken to the hospital.

Burstin’s unfortunate condition reflects this seaside town’s fortunes. By the time the hotel was completed, in the 1980s, beach holidays in the UK were at their peak, cheap flights and package tours were busy taking customers to sunnier destinations in the country. outside. When I first stayed at the hotel a few years ago, my room smelled of stale cigarettes and the top floors were filled with cigarettes. new asylum seekers from the Channel.

This time there was scaffolding for much needed maintenance. My room was clean, had a water view and was very good value at £34 for a night. It feels comfortable, like a vacation destination.

Coastal resorts across the UK have struggled in recent decades. The likes of Folkestone and its close allies Hastings and Margate, once royal waterholes – King Edward VII was a regular of Folkestone – were all falling on hard times. in one government study 2021 of the UK’s lowest income places, Hastings is 14th, Thanet (including Margate) 30th and Folkestone 82nd (out of 316). And that is despite the fact that all three are located in the southeast, the wealthiest corner of the nation.

Hastings has been one of the most deprived towns in Britain for decades (Image: larigan-Patricia Hamilton/Getty Images)

Hastings has been one of the most deprived towns in Britain for decades (Image: larigan-Patricia Hamilton/Getty Images)

The three chose a similar strategy to alleviate their unhappiness: the kiss of art. Two now have galleries that claim to be as big as regenerative engines, and the third has the largest outdoor art collection in the country, turning the resort into a sort of cultural treasure hunt. And this second destination – Folkestone – has just been described as “an exciting example of the power of well-intentioned recreation” and “a younger, fresher and cheaper version of Brighton” in The Sunday Times guide to the best places to live.

In the case of Margate, all of this resurgence began with the 2011 opening of Turner Contemporary Gallery, an eye-catching building placed right by the harbor to honor the English Romantic painter JMW Turner, who frequented the site from the 1820s onwards. Turner commented that the sky along this coast was “the most beautiful in Europe”, and he also admired his landlady, a certain Mrs. Booth. The couple lived here as Mr and Mrs Booth until his death.

After Turner, the seaside town that prospered in the 20th Century, its stretch of sand lured Londoners onto trains to Margate, but it didn’t last long. Artist Tracey Emin, who grew up in Margate and recently moved his studio here, recalls it becoming a “no-go zone” in the 1980s. Its theme park was closed and shops were closed. was erected.

Turner Contemporary Gallery helped change Margate's fortunes (Credit: Paul Luchi Photography/Alamy)

Turner Contemporary Gallery helped change Margate’s fortunes (Credit: Paul Luchi Photography/Alamy)

Now, however, new fans of Margate come to the visual arts rather than jelly eels. Over the past 12 years, Turner Contemporary’s permanent list of exhibitions has attracted 3.8 million visitors and contributed more than £70 million to the community. Amusement park dreamland reopened with classic arcades, and the once dull old town square has been transformed into a hipster-ish bookshop and brasserie. It may still be a weekend wonder, but it is a start.

The same can be said of Hastings, Margate’s bedmate on the list of deprived towns. This Hastings . Contemporary Gallery also a new construction on the coast, but this time nestled in the convoy of Britain’s largest fishing fleet launched on the beach, surrounded by hulls, warehouses and net shops. special wood, where nets used to be hung up to dry.

The gallery reopened in 2012, since then the list of exhibitions has changed – some with a local focus and some with major international names in contemporary art – having attracts 500,000 visitors. And “for every £1 spent on the gallery, we think £3 contributes to the local economy,” said gallery director Liz Gilmore.

Margate Dreamland theme park reopened with classic rides (Image: Jennika Argent/Alamy)

Margate Dreamland theme park reopened with classic rides (Image: Jennika Argent/Alamy)

When I visited, Gilmore was preparing for one of the big changes of the year, Soutine / Kossoff, a symposium that unites two main figures of 20th Century painting: Chaïm Soutine, a master of the Paris School who grew up in Belarus; and Leon Kossoff, a master of the London School, whose parents are from Ukraine.

Gilmore emphasizes the importance of attention-grabbing exhibits like these in drawing tourists to the town and inspiring residents to connect with the culture. “This is a very needy town, with 1,000 homeless people, and we have a responsibility to the community. I want every Hastings student to come here as part of our outreach program. “

Like Margate, the gallery effect seems to be working. George Street, the main artery of Hastings old town, is home to cigar dealers, vintage boutiques and bookshops. Gilmore says the gallery has been a catalyst for creators to choose to settle down; and during dinner at the old town’s Crown pub, which is decorated with modern art, I spotted actress Gina McKee eating her pasta.

Folkestone's Creative Quarter is home to galleries, artist studios and venues offering music, theater and entertainment (Image: Andrew Eames)

Folkestone’s Creative Quarter is home to galleries, artist studios and venues offering music, theater and entertainment (Image: Andrew Eames)

And so along the coast came my final stop, Folkestone, where the division between the town center and the newly formed Creative Quarter could easily be seen.

The former is a patchwork of concrete, hastily rebuilt after all the damage caused by German bombs during World War II, of which the old ferry terminal has become an obvious target. But slide downhill past the Town Hall into the Old Town, and suddenly it’s all pastels and cobblestones, gourmet food and art galleries where beauties sip milkshakes in the sun. And hidden among the street food and whimsical barbershops with names like Oh Sailor, are the works of the likes of Banksy, Yoko Ono and Gilbert & George.

These and more than 70 other works are distributed throughout town, loosely connected in a series of art lanes. Every three years, this stock of outdoor art grows thanks to the Folkestone Triennial, the latest edition (in 2021) attracting more than 220,000 visitors.

Folkestone's series of art pathways connects permanent exhibits of over 40 international artists (Image: Andrew Eames)

Folkestone’s series of artistic pathways connects permanent exhibits of over 40 international artists (Image: Andrew Eames)

Every three years and the trails are the inspiration of Creative Folkestone, an organization seed-funded in 2002 by millionaire Sir Roger de Haan, the former owner of the saga group (based here), to breathe new life into Folkestone. Besides art, Creative Folkestone has restored 90 buildings and manages more than 50 shops, 115 studios and offices in the Creative Quarter, located between the town center and the harbour.

Daniel Sangiuseppe, Chairman of the Hotel Association of Folkestone, said go back 20 years and this used to be a red light district. “It used to be the cheapest and safest place to live. Now it’s where everyone wants to be.” Sangiuseppe is delighted with his town’s recent progress.

Reincarnation doesn’t just take place inland. Out on the water, where the Grand Burstin hatches on the jetty, the Roger de Haan Foundation has been working on the old jetty. A useless, windy concrete branch that once sheltered France’s ferries is now a place of dining, art port arm with about 36 food outlets along its length. There is an impressively placed statue of Antony Gormley lower above the water and a lighthouse at the end emblazoned with the words of Ian Hamilton Finlay: “Weather is a third of place and time. “.

Back when the poet’s words were first printed here for Three 2014, to walk the length of the abandoned jetty would then have to be a walk through the rusty derelict and decay of sea. Now, however, the reward for running craft beer shops and tacos stands is that the beacon has been reborn as a champagne bar.

How things have changed.

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