How do you rescue a seaside town? #Beekhaybee

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Having been a model of gentility,
Folkestone went into a slump. But its
efforts to combat its problems and
rebuild might be a model for others,
writes Hannah Sander.
The seaside town of Folkestone was once
the height of fashion.
International superstars Agatha Christie
and Yehudi Menuhin were regular
visitors. King Edward VII spent so much
of his time in the Kent town that locals
took to peering in the windows of the
Grand Hotel, in order to spot him having
illicit tea with his Folkestone mistress
Alice Keppel (the great-grandmother of
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall).
Today, a strip of grand mansions along
Folkestone’s seafront is boarded up.
Stretches of sunny beach have become
an overnight stop for parked lorries. A
closed nightclub completes the scene.
Welcome to the British seaside. All along
the coast, seaside towns are in trouble.
In the south, authorities battle against
the spread of London drug gangs, the
tensions fuelled by a European migrant
crisis, and a seaside school system
which Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of
Ofsted, has warned is failing children.
And yet only a few minutes’ walk along
Folkestone beach, pop-up restaurants
offer grilled sea bass, oysters and
champagne to the tourists. In the past
decade the town’s new art scene has
attracted an affluent following.
Similar transformations are occurring in
Margate and Weston-Super-Mare. So are
fading seaside towns becoming trendy
again?
The British seaside has not recovered
from the collapse of the maritime and
tourism industries. Populations in
coastal towns tend to be older and less
ethnically diverse. Coastal towns have
higher rates of unemployment and more
long-term health problems.
Richard Prothero, from the Office for
National Statistics, has analysed 274
seaside destinations around England and
Wales. “Not every coastal town is
struggling,” he explains. “Some are
doing very well and remain popular.”
Nevertheless, his study revealed high
levels of deprivation in many seaside
resorts.
In Folkestone, ONS statistics reveal that
education is a particular concern. “The
biggest impact on school performance is
parental engagement,” says Dr Tanya
Ovenden-Hope, visiting fellow at the
University of Plymouth. She has been
monitoring six struggling academies
around England.
“In coastal areas we are finding that
parents have perhaps received poor
education themselves, or education that
didn’t lead to a good job. So school is
not a priority for them. That makes it
much harder to engage the children.”
Folkestone
Population: 46,698 (2011 census)
UK constituency: Folkestone and
Hythe; MP – Damian Collins
(Conservative)
Twinned with Boulogne-sur-Mer and
Etaples-sur-Mer in France, and
Middelburg in the Netherlands
Ovenden-Hope herself went to school in
Folkestone. She worries about the impact
of the town’s two grammar schools.
On the pavement of Folkestone’s
shopping district, three local schoolgirls
wave colourful signs. They have just
completed a sponsored silence, and are
now handing out free hot meals to
Folkestone’s homeless population.
“Schools in Folkestone have got a lot
better,” says sixth-former Shrishma
Adhikari. “But there seem to be a lot
more homeless people now.” All three
pupils believe unemployment is a
growing problem.
In reality, coastal schools have the
opposite problem – too many jobs, not
enough staff. “Recruitment is a key
issue,” Ovenden-Hope explains. “If you
are a newly qualified teacher in your 20s,
would you want to go to a very remote
coastal school that will present you with
huge challenges but with a limited social
life? Equally, if you are a middle-aged
teacher and a job comes up in a coastal
school, you might discover there is no
employment in the area for your spouse.”
The three pupils volunteering in
Folkestone’s streets agree that the town
can feel far-flung, despite High-Speed 1
trains racing through the fields. “We
don’t really go to London,” Shrishma
shrugs. “It’s too far away.”
Stuart Hooper, the director of intelligence
for Kent and Essex Serious Crime
Directorate, fears that London is actually
far too near.
“It is a new phenomenon – the County
Lines,” he explains. “Kent and Essex
have very good transport to London and
so the London drug gangs have the
opportunity to widen their market.”
Folkestone and Dover are among the
southern towns being targeted by up to
180 drug gangs. Criminals in the capital,
realising that the Metropolitan Police
recognise their faces, have begun to
recruit young people as drug mules
travelling out to the countryside.
“We need to acknowledge that there are
vulnerable young people being exploited,”
Hooper explains. His team is working
with the Met, as well as local addiction
services, to monitor violence.
And yet coastal crime is not a new
phenomenon. “Gangs and turf wars have
been around since at least the 1960s
with the mods and rockers, and going
back before then,” Hooper says. In the
1930s, crime beside the sea was so
prevalent that Graham Greene based his
novel Brighton Rock (1938) on gang
wars. Meanwhile the queen of crime,
Agatha Christie, took a suite at
Folkestone’s Grand Hotel to pen her
thriller Murder on the Orient Express
(1934), and returned to Folkestone
regularly.
Another type of violence can already be
found in the seaside streets. In August,
Kent Police was forced to intervene in a
clash between the English Defence
League and local protest group
Folkestone United. The scenes could have
taken place a century ago, when an
influx of Belgian World War One refugees
and British empire soldiers turned
Folkestone into one of the most diverse
cities in the world. Then as now, a wave
of anti-immigration rhetoric followed.
The surge in support for UKIP has been
driven by seaside towns such as
Grimsby in Lincolnshire and Clacton in
Essex. As the starting point for the
channel tunnel, Folkestone has been
central to the debate around
immigration. In 2013 UKIP Leader Nigel
Farage declared that he might stand as
an MP in Folkestone (he later switched to
the seaside region of Thanet).
“The Channel Tunnel drew everything
away from here, from town, but it is
coming back,” explains the waiter in
Googies Art Cafe, a trendy burger and
craft beer joint in Folkestone’s art
district. “Folkestone has completely
changed. For one thing, it has become a
lot more multicultural. It used to be
white, white, white. Eventually the town
will be as trendy as Brighton.”
Trendiness, it seems, can transform
troubled seaside towns into European
hotspots. Richard Prothero points to the
colossal variation between different
seaside towns, sometimes near to each
other. Whereas the statistics show
Blackpool to be highly deprived,
neighbouring Lytham St Annes is
thriving. The Lancashire town has a
renowned links golf course to draw in
tourists.
Elsewhere, Salcombe in Devon has
performed better than other seaside
towns nearby. The upmarket clothes
brand Jack Wills was founded in
Salcombe, helping the town earn its
nickname of Chelsea-on-Sea.
In Sussex, Hove has borrowed the street
cred of neighbouring Brighton,
welcoming sister campuses for the
university. Thousands of visitors are
filling the hotels and restaurants of
Bournemouth, this season promoted to
the Premier League for the first time.
Margate has capitalised on its
connection to Tracey Emin, with the
Turner Contemporary art gallery and an
installation from artist Grayson Perry. In
Weston-Super-Mare, tourism experts
expect Banksy’s Dismaland to add £7m
to the local economy.
Folkestone has benefitted from some
good fortune. The flotation of local
business Saga – an insurance and travel
company aimed at the over 50s –
prompted owner Roger De Haan to pour
huge sums of money into regeneration.
The result was the Creative Foundation.
“In 2002, the area around the seafront
was the most run-down part of town,”
says Alastair Upton, chief executive of
the Creative Foundation. “Roger De Haan
bought buildings in the whole area and
restored them. Many of the buildings had
taken a battering from the environment.
The river runs below us and basements
still flood periodically. But 90 of these
buildings are now available for artistic
activity.”
The Creative Foundation has launched a
triennial art show, a new music and
performance venue, a book fair, a public
art collection featuring works by Tracey
Emin, Mark Wallinger and Richard
Wentworth, and has created 300 jobs.
More importantly, it has given the town a
reputation as an arts hub.
Beth Gibbs manages the Lilford Gallery
Folkestone, which opened over the
summer, and is found on a winding
cobbled street newly crowded with art
shops and cafes. Until recently the street
had been dilapidated. “We are based in
Canterbury,” Gibbs explains, “and were
looking to expand when I heard about
the Old High Street. There is a buzz
about this area in the art world.”
“Our main market is people coming down
from London,” Gibbs says, “and a
growing number coming over from
France. Without the Old High Street,
Folkestone would be just a bog-standard
English seaside town.”
The impact of an arts revival is hard to
assess.
In the 12 years since the regeneration
began there has been very little research
linking the town’s economic state or the
number of tourists with the new arts
scene. The town’s economic health has
mirrored the country at large. Vast sums
have been spent on the regeneration and
yet the ONS still rates Folkestone as
“deprived”. But Upton insists that
Folkestone’s new arts scene has had a
broader impact than that.
“You would be measuring the wrong
thing if you measured visitor numbers.
Success is a funny thing. There are some
measurables – how does the town feel?
What are the employment possibilities
like? Are jobs secure and well paid?
“But there are also questions of the
identity of a town. I think we have done a
huge amount on this – changing the way
people perceive Folkestone. There is a
growing sense of self-confidence and
pride for the town.”
At Googies, the staff has noticed the
impact of Folkestone’s new reputation.
“We are part of the Folkestone creative
scene too – we all promote each other. In
the past 10 years Folkestone has
completely changed. People will soon
start to realise that. We have sun, sand
and sea. We have a better life.”

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