This Faded Seaside Home
I am born and bred Thanet. It has always been my home, even when I lived in Scotland, Birmingham, Sheffield, London, Brighton; the Isle of Thanet was still my home and they were just transitory places: I knew I’d come back.
When I had my first child, the search for an escape from London began. I did not want her growing up breathing in the Westway air, or having to worry about how she’d cope come her teens, living in a city rife with youth stabbings. I looked at Bristol, Devon, Hastings, Brighton; but none were home.Thanet kept pulling me back: the warmer than average micro climate, a high speed rail link to London in the offing, and those beaches, those golden sands and azure seas shadowed by chalky white cliffs! I just couldn’t find it anywhere else.
We moved back as winter began and the grey skies reflected in the boarded up seafront shops, tarnishing my dreams of what Margate was. It was just a faded seaside town, badly hit by cheap holidays abroad and an immigration crisis that had seen former B&Bs turned into emergency housing for a massive influx of refugees from war torn countries.
Had I made a terrible mistake? Would my daughter blame me later for the lack of opportunities and dead end lifestyle I’d given her? Inevitably, if she possessed any talent or intelligence, she would move away to a brighter future than this forgotten island could offer.
Then, it started happening. Little hints at a changing vista. The high speed rail link was bringing others desperate to escape the oppressive city, wanting to spend weekends by the sea, rather than in pubs and bars. The new Turner Contemporary art gallery was attracting a creative crowd with the vision to see beyond the dilapidated buildings that dotted the seafront. They weren’t wealthy, but the price of a house here was comparable to a poky one bed in London. They had an opportunity to be big fish in a small pond and really make a mark on an area. And slowly, they did.
Scaffolding started to appear in rundown streets, marked by locals as no go areas; long time boarded up spaces reopened as vintage or retro clothing and furniture shops, tiny art galleries, coffee shops and eateries. Good coffee shops and eateries. Things were changing and Margate’s future was looking brighter.
Eight years on and the difference in the area is nothing short of incredible. Margate is back on the map as a place to visit, to holiday, and most importantly, to live. House prices have rocketed compared to other parts of the country as demand grows, and the changing vista deserves its own time lapse video to truly appreciate the development that’s taken place.
Despite concerns that gentrification and regeneration can kill the soul of a place, I don’t think Margate will ever entirely fall victim to that. The poverty and limited career opportunities that have plagued this area for so long continue, and show no signs of massively improving any time soon. So we have the almost ideal situation of multi cultural, multi class living in an area so beautiful, everyone wants to be here. And to do so, people with money will neighbour those with less than nothing.
I really and truly believe in Margate. I always have and always will. It’s far from perfect, but what is perfection? Does anybody really want to live in a completely sanitised space, stripped of its soul by gentrification? What would there be to strive for if we did?