CLIFTONVILLE

Cliftonville in Kent has many of the ingredients to become an east Kent hub for the creative industries, particularly design and small tech start ups, if only those in power embrace the area. (10mins read).


Cliftonville, home to a previous art intervention of mine, feels like the forgotten sibling of east Kent that will grow up to surprise everyone and become a lavish success story.

The area has seen an influx of new wealthier residents bringing much needed disposable income, investment and improvements to buildings across the town, yet it’s clear that social challenges remain.

Intervention

L to R: 1. Before – Site of Moonbow Margate intervention in a derelict cafe on Clifton Rise, 2. Six weeks later as local people from far and wide began to engage.

In 2011, I ran my first long term art intervention, Moonbow Margate in Cliftonville, following the impact on the local community of the newly opened Turner Contemporary gallery along the road. Classified then as one of Britain’s most deprived areas, Cliftonville had a terrible reputation across Kent as being criminal, dirty and many other things. Although there were certainly issues, there was also a warm and welcoming community, a large number of established artists and many interesting people. The town still had numerous grand buildings, although many were in need of major renovation. It was where I met artist Clare Patterson owner of Brook, my home for this journey and presently in need of some attention at the local garage.

New Businesses

Despite a forecast of a heatwave, the town was overcast, windy and chilly, meaning reduced footfall and highlighting the need for businesses not to be reliant on day-trippers to survive.

L to R: 1. Cliftonville seafront towards Broadstairs, 2. Seafront towards Margate, 3. Northdown Road

A number of new shops and cafes have appeared, many catering for the new incomers while most of the old businesses, some of which had been in Cliftonville’s Northdown road for generations, have closed. Northdown road was already in steep decline in 2011 so arrival of new independent businesses is timely. Margate Caves project is finally coming to fruition after years of campaigning and fundraising. A number of small design and art studios have also set up and there are several new galleries opening in Margate old town, a short walk away. Houses dotted across the area have had makeovers, providing work for local trades and economic injection into the area’s numerous retro furniture shops. Whether these makeovers are commercial ventures or individuals’ setting up home is difficult to discern.

L to R: 1. New Margate Caves Building, 2. View of Northdown Road from Grain Cafe, 3. House makeover

Social Issues

The atmosphere is not threatening and there is no begging to speak of despite clear signs of homelessness. With weeds growing between the curb stones, uncared for buildings and rubbish strewn across side streets and along the curb the place has an unloved feel. The dysfunctional Thanet District Council (TDC) has always had a difficult relationship with Cliftonville as far back as I can recall.

Despite some improvement in the built fabric of Cliftonville, poverty and associated issues remain stark. The streets and alleys were rancid in some places in 2011 and then saw a gradual improvement on each visit, particularly in regards dog pooh. Although not as bad now as in 2011, the rubbish and general lack of care for the environment has returned. People sitting in small huddles drinking cheap beer remains. Drugs, alcohol, poor diets and cigarettes dominate as one walks around; across all social classes and ages.

Discarded Diamond

Back in 2011, my belief was that if any part Thanet was to become a buzzing hub area with thriving new businesses focused on tech and media it would be Cliftonville. This belief remains, but there has to be more crossover between the newcomers, long term residents and those struggling. This may be happening but it is hard to judge. Although there are some first rate assets in the public realm, they are generally poorly maintained with little shelter from the biting north wind. Prices in some of the new cafes are London prices plus, which will exclude a large portion of the incumbent community where average wages are close to minimum. Renting or buying a property has probably seen prices double in a decade.

Rapid Transit and Internet

Besides cleaning, there are two distinct issues with Cliftonville that can be reasonable overcome in my view. One is the continuing poor wifi and internet services and the other is public transport.

With 5G around the corner I will just assume that this will be solved very soon. Cliftonville needs a tram or some other form of light Rapid Transit system. Unlike difficulties found in other localities, converting the wide seafront roadway from Margate railway station towards Broadstairs should be fairly straightforward.  Thoughtfully constructed, it could be later extended towards Birchington opening up a large expanse of building and investment opportunities.

With seaside towns all along the Kent coast obsessed with nostalgia, and Margate in particular, maybe it could be time to look to old technologies like the electric trolley bus built by Richard Garrett & Sons? See Electric Vehicles blog post.

Short Film commissioned by Richard Garrett and Sons for potential customers of their single and double-decker electric trolley buses, produced near the end of the 1920s. (The Long Shop Museum website) [1]

Turner Effect

Turner Contemporary has put Margate on the map and brought new people with much needed disposable income to Cliftonville. There is far more confidence around than when the gallery opened in 2011, and is a good illustration how targeted public investment can lift an area. Yet the change remains slow going and the risks of the newcomers with cash drying up remains possible. Other towns, for example Herne Bay further along the coast is slowly beginning to show signs of change and quality of housing appears more appealing with lower price tags.

Large Scale Investment

Although by no means certain, Cliftonville has the most potential in Thanet at becoming a kind of hub that could attract serious large-scale private investment. Becoming a specialist zone for the creative industries would be the most likely positioning. With cafes, restaurants, bars and galleries now established, there is possibility that an large advertising, design or media house could set up a design studio operation in a place like Cliftonville? With margins struggling with downward pressure, salaries for designers and post-production talent are feeling the squeeze. By relocating to an area with a pool of talent, lower rents and large bright housing with gardens, open spaces and vibrant nightlife could mitigate some of the downside of lower salaries?

Post movie production is also an area of potential due to the amount of people who work/worked in the industry and live in the area.

Conclusion

I would love to see Cliftonville and the people who have lived there for years thrive and prosper; yet this might not happen unless TDC, and possibly the people across Thanet change attitude towards the area. Whitstable, Hastings and even places as far away as Ipswich* are all vying for the businesses being driven out of London by spiralling rents and costs, so nothing can be taken for granted.

COMMENT: Please feel free to comment below, even if totally disagree, this is a safe space for conversation and sharing views.

John M

DONATE

If you are enjoying this Haphazard journey and would like to donate, then just click below. This is presently a self-funded project. Thanks, John M

£5.00

* See Ipswich post for more on this rapidly changing town

  1. The Long Shop Museum website, Garrett’s Electric Trolley Buses, online { http://www.longshopmuseum.co.uk/garretts-electric-trolleys/ }

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