Margate, Mr Simms, Tracey Emin and an amazing regeneration of a town centre

If you have read any of my blog posts before, you may remember that I spent some of my formative years in Margate and I still rather like the place. But for many years it has been a seriously depressed and depressing place to be. I’ve suggested ways for them to improve things before and already reported that it is getting better, but I am delighted to report that after my visit this weekend the town feels really like it is well on its way to a complete recovery.

The Turner Contemporary was showing a huge Tracey Emin exhibition. Not even slightly my cup of tea and I can’t show any of the work as you’re not allowed to take photos. But it is a huge draw and there were far more people here than on the beaches.

The Turner Contemporary in Margate
The Turner Contemporary in Margate

The statue by Rodin ‘The Kiss’ was far easier for a simple bloke like me to understand and whilst I did think the characters in the statue did have extraordinarily large hands and feet, it did feel like a huge privilege to see something so beautiful and obviously world class for free in (one of) my home town(s). It is made even more dramatic by the backdrop of the sea through the spectacular windows of the Turner, which completely frame the view.

Rodin's Kiss at the Turner Contemporary in Margate
Rodin’s Kiss at the Turner Contemporary in Margate

But at the same time, there was a massive UK beach volleyball championship going on further up the beach. The Margate Masters was beautifully organised across 12 courts and again free. It had quite a few people watching and cheering. from my completely limited knowledge, it looked to be played to a high standard too.

The Margate Masters - Beach Volleyball Maragte Style
The Margate Masters – Beach Volleyball Maragte Style

But then, a new highlight and a sign of the real regeneration. Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe.

Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe in Margate
Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe in Margate

What a fabulous and world class little shop. For regeneration to take place, it needs world class inward investors. The Turner started it, but little retailers like this are picking up the baton and really carrying it forward. I know it’s only a sweet shoppe, but it was beautifully designed, offered great service from knowledgable staff and had things from around the world that I have never seen in the UK, such as Vanilla Coke Zero and Peanut Butter Snickers (which I have enjoyed already).

The whole town felt like it was becoming a little Brighton and the retail centre is slowly building itself back out from the Old Town. there areother new retailers throughout the Old Town and back up the High Street.

I was so impressed with how far Margate has come that now i’m hoping for the rebirth of Dreamland and even more great things to come.

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Margate, The Old Town, the Turner Contemporary and Camp Granada

You know that song by Allan Sherman from 1963. “Hello Muddah, Hello Farder, here I am at Camp Granada’

You know, the one, where the camp looks terrible, it’s wet and vile. Then the sun comes out and it all looks beautiful again. You know, this one.

Well that’s what has happened in Margate. I wrote a piece in August 2009 here. And then later in 2009, I suggested that Margate Councillors should be more creative in the way they attracted retailers here.

Well, the alternative was to build a huge great new Turner Contemporary instead. Which they did.

The new Turner Contemporary in Margate
The new Turner Contemporary in Margate

And what a difference it has made. It’s like the clouds have cleared and the games have started. The Old Town, which had potential, has delivered. A little market was a start point, but the retail space is lovely.

Margate Old Town - What a beautiful place
Margate Old Town - What a beautiful place

And whilst this picture doesn’t do it justice, the cafes are bustling on a Sunday morning and people are landing to see the Turner and spreading out through the town.

Cupcakes and coffee in Margate old town
Cupcakes and coffee in Margate old town

Margate looked lovely for the first time in years. It looks a little loved, as though the money spent on it has finally been well spent. The future for Margate has to be more than pie and mash and jellied eels, it has to have some culture in it too. Hopefully the Turner and it’s crowd of visitors can deliver this too.

I just hope the growth continues back into the rest of the town too….