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Margate Pier circa 1987 (Wikimedia Commons/ Detroit Publishing Co)

Margate Pier circa 1897 (Wikimedia Commons/ Detroit Publishing Co)

Small towns were hit hard by the recession, but many were already struggling long before that. Once a bustling seaside resort, Margate degraded over time. The pier was lost to a storm, the economy took a turn for the worse as holidaymakers went abroad and, finally, Dreamland, its trademark theme park, closed its doors. Hopes for that reopening ever again were nearly dashed after the listed Scenic Railway, the only thing stopping the area being developed into flats, mysteriously caught light despite sitting alone and unused on empty concrete. The high street shop windows slowly replaced displays with wood and it increasingly took on the persona of a post-apocalyptic, desolate and abandoned town.

With economic degeneration came the usual associated problem. Anti-social behaviour, crime and drugs have all been issues that have affected Margate for some time. This in itself causes an amplification loop wherein they cause themselves to rise as more people are dragged in.

This obviously has a negative effect on the economy as does the encouragement young people get from these problems to move away and leave the town. It is a spiral that is seen all over the country and one that can be incredibly hard to stop. It seems though that Margate is beginning to fight back. There has always been a glimmer of hope there and just recently it was on a list of top 10 places to visit in the world. The turnaround has not come at super-speed, but at the same time there has been no major overhaul of the town infrastructure, so why is this happening?

The Turner Centre (Flickr/AndyRobertsPhotos)

The Turner Centre (Flickr/AndyRobertsPhotos)

Margate previously tried to cling to its history as a seaside resort, but its beautiful Blue Flag beaches were just not enough any more. Foreign holidays have become increasingly affordable and so sunnier weather pulled potential visitors away. The recently built Turner Centre and the town’s artistic history (TS Eliot wrote some of The Waste Land here, J. M. W Turner painted in Margate and Tracey Emin also hails from the town) has helped to bring tourists, but it alone could not invigorate the place.

An art gallery is not enough to make people stay for a proper visit and so, without support, it would never attract people from all over the country. What has truly made Margate what it is today is the incredibly diverse collection of local businesses who are driving Margate forward and re-establishing it as a place to go. The Old Town has transformed over recent years and this new found prosperity is spreading back to the High Street, all in the face of an ever-expanding shopping centre situated one town over containing giants like Primark, Topshop, Burtons, TK Maxx and many more.

Some of the longest standing stalwarts of Margate’s Old Town have been the shops selling vintage clothes and furniture including Madam Popoff, Junk Deluxe and Helter Skelter (there are many, many more. A quick Google search of “Margate vintage shops” will give you all the information you need). They play off the history of Margate and its link to past youth cultures. The town was once a favourite of mods, rockers and skinheads among others. The Emporium (located on the High Street rather than in the Old Town) also taps into this culture with plenty of clothes aimed at skinheads and mods, but it also caters for the more modern scene with plenty of clothes aimed at dance music and rave fans.

The cafes and bars are also what makes Margate unique. The Cupcake Cafe and The Greedy Cow, sit alongside institutions like The Lifeboat and Mad Hatter. Margate now has something to offer most people whether you’re after a cream tea or ten shots of Jaeger. This is all the while more galleries are popping up too, such as the Margate Gallery, which are pulling in more artists who are taking advantage of the cheap studio space and accommodation in the town. The question is though, are the benefits that strong for Margate and its population? The answer is yes, that the current changes in Margate are some of the best to happen to it in decades.

Leading the way to the Old Town

Leading the way to the Old Town (Flickr/fotologic)

It has started to give Margate a new identity. It is no longer that grey, poorly-kempt, salty town where there’s nothing to do. People are beginning to recognise that Margate is vibrant and alive. This new found pride will begin to rub off on the inhabitants and encourage them to take advantage of what is on offer. It will bring interest from outside and thus new investments which will help to give more jobs to locals. It will encourage school leavers to stick around and find their way in the world through local means rather than being dragged away to places like London, Brighton and Manchester. It will also offer newer opportunities outside the usual of working in a clothes shop or fast food chain. Margate is becoming a place to create in rather than get away from, and nearly all the praise can be put onto the ingenious entrepreneurs who live and work there.

It is through the encouragement of local businesses that towns can begin to fight off the recession and return to past glories. Councils might espouse big redevelopments or big cuts to save their communities, but that just does not work. The power is in the hands of the locals, they just need the push and the support. Once they’re given that, they’ll build something to be proud of.