Exploring the Creative Quarter in Folkestone

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MyCake’s Founder Sarah Thelwall is on a short tour of Kent on the 8th and 9th of December primarily because she is teaching a cashflow master class for School for Creative Startups but also for the fun of tracking down a few more funfairs (Dreamland, Margate) and lidos (Walpole Bay) plus of course it is a great excuse to see what the creative entrepreneurs of Kent are up to … A bit of homework before teaching a class of them on Monday. So this post is really just a few musings after a busy Sunday exploring…

There’s a reason that creatives in Whitstable call it Whitster-bubble .. It was the first of the Kent towns to experience significant regeneration and develop a strong creative-based community. The artists who have lived here for decades have more recently been joined by a wider variety of creatives many of whom split their time between London and Whitstable and are able to do so with relative ease due to good train links. The light is great, the community is strong and whilst house prices have risen significantly space is still cheaper than London … A bonus if you are looking for a studio for your production as well as a place to live. With great business advisors such as Yvonne Fuchs (the branding workshop) also based there creatives can get superb advice and consultancy as well.

But how are Margate and Folkestone doing? Margate has certainly benefitted from the opening of the Turner Contemporary not only because it acts as a draw for tourists but also because it provides employment which utilises and builds on the skills of the creatives in the city, imports senior creative staff and regularly brings established artists to the city which in turn increases the opportunities for artists based here to develop. The streets around the Turner Contemporary are enjoying a renaissance as a new, more design and art oriented audience arrives in town and the volume of design, vintage and art retailers has increased significantly in the past 5 years.

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Folkestone too is changing. Building on the successes of Navigating History and the Triennial the Creative Quarter has rapidly built a reputation as the heart of the creative community. This has been built organically by the local creative crowd and is most certainly not a council initiative. In fact if anything they could probably grow faster if they had some support! In addition to the likes of Anecdote, Rennies and Cursley & Bond the Old High Street boasts great coffee at Manifest and superb Victorian architecture which is a fabulous contrast to the contemporary delights of Rocksalt.

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So from the outside it looks good but I have a few questions to put to the participants in today’s workshop if I am to really start to understand the creative ecosystem here in Kent and these are:

  • How many businesses do you need to create a magnet that draws in footfall and is it working in Folkestone?
  • How does the distance from London affect the markets and customers that Kent creatives are targeting?
  • Is the cost of running a business lower?
  • How seasonal are the businesses based in seaside towns and how does this affect the business models?

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4 thoughts on “Exploring the Creative Quarter in Folkestone

  1. I am not sure it’s the number of businesses that will attract footfall rather than the type of businesses? Like many other people in Folkestone, I think that the town needs a real attraction (like the Turner in Margate) to become a destination that will give businesses (restaurants, cafes and shops) the footfall that is lacking. Someone mentioned to bring the ferry to Boulogne-sur-Mer back: you could go to France for lunch and back and vice-versa the French would come to Folkestone for the day.

    The high-speed train has made it easier for Londoners to come to the seaside for the day, it’s a definite. What has helped – and there needs more of that – is the “buzz” around Folkestone in the Evening Standard and the Times, for example. We have had many customers from London following the May article in the Standard in their Homes & Property pages. People who came to check it out, some had never heard of Folkestone! Marketing is key to bringing visitors to the town, and especially marketing for the Creative Quarter including the Old High Street. Better maps and signs in the streets so that tourists do find Rocksalt for example, instead of finding themselves wandering around the distressed old harbour carpark. And of course all the available retail spaces should be filled. I am thinking of Hastings and Margate where the Old Town has a good quantity of Vintage/Antiques/Cafes. Even on Mondays, those places are not dead. I would be really happy if more shops like mine, selling upcycled furniture and unusual products, were to open. I want competition because if there is competition, there is life!

    The great advantage for businesses in the Old High Street in Folkestone is that it costs much less than in London or Canterbury.

    And yes, business is seasonal, at the moment. Anecdotes opened at the end of March 2013 and business picked up really quickly and grew steadily until September (August a bit quiet though). The footfall has dramatically dropped down in October and November.
    But if the area became a destination for a different type of shopping mixed with some different experience (the ferry? or a School for Circus with Acrojou? the options are infinite), then winter wouldn’t stop footfall. After all, Folkestone has a magnificent Coastal Park, beautiful beaches and walks and good quality Pubs and quirky cafes as well as the Grand and the Leas, and the gorgeous architectural buildings inherited from the past.

  2. The core business HKD is a design studio. Our projects arent in London so it doesnt matter where we are. We are not a seasonal business. With hindsight I think we underestimated the signal we sent by moving out of London. Now that Margate’s reputation is beginning to change there is less confusion about why we are here.

    It has given us freedom to develop our own projects at a scale that would have been impossible in London.
    GEEK is an example of this.
    With GEEK we are working to create a beacon of excellence which will bring out of season visitors to Margate but more importantly encourage digital innovators to move into the area. We wanted to support a shift from seasonal employment to year round businesses esp. creative industries.

    In terms of costs to run a business – yes fixed costs are much lower but staff turnover is high. We successfully attract people into the area to work with us but the lack of opportunities for their partners means they often return to London 6-9 months later. We have had people commute from London but it doesn’t stack up financially.

    Hence GEEK and the drive to support the long term development of Margate.

  3. Very interesting article and comments too. Despite being in London for more than 16 years I have never had the idea or wish to visit Folkestone though after reading the May article in the Standard in their Homes & Property pages I wanted to have a proper look. What a good surprise: The old town, the harbour, the Leas, beautiful grand architecture at affordable price and 50 minutes away from London by train or 1h30 by car. The city need indeed a buzz, something to attract visitors as clearly it has a lot of potential. It reminds me of Padstow before it all started. You need to find the right niche though to develop the city and good marketing to promote the city (Architecture, landscape, position close to London, Sea). Personally Folkestone being so close to London and France I would develop the image of the city as a week end retreat, develop the gastro part (Rocksalt is the perfect example, how amazing to have such a place 1h30 from London!) and attract small independent retailers with a focus on art, Antique, vintage mid 20th century furniture, deco, design, etc). Anyway. After a few visit to Folkestone I have now decided to buy a property and I can t wait for the (week end) move till I decide to move permanently

  4. Kate, how about a coffee and a catch up soon? Shall we move this conversation to email? Best, sarah

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