A new wave of projects looks set to give Margate’s regeneration a further boost as it prepares to host the 2019 Turner Prize. Colin Marrs looks at the resort’s continuing revival
At the beginning of the decade, Margate regularly featured in the national press, but rarely in a good way. Tabloid headlines such as ‘Sun scroungers’ focused on the high number of benefit claimants in the run-down Kent resort. And in 2011 the town, once among the UK’s top summer holiday destinations, was revealed to have the highest proportion of boarded-up shop fronts in the country.
But Margate has turned itself around. The opening of David Chipperfield’s Turner Contemporary art gallery that same year brought an influx of visitors to the town, many of them arriving on the improved train service from London.
Regeneration of the town’s fortunes has followed. A new wave of building projects, many led by creative local residents, is in the pipeline in the run-up to the town’s hosting of next year’s Turner Prize exhibition. Among these schemes, the AJ can now reveal, are plans by Chipperfield drawn up – for free – for a hostel on land next to the gallery.
The Chipperfield plan would create 100 simple rooms facing Margate’s famous sea-front, together with meeting rooms, social spaces, and a café/brasserie. The intention is to accommodate visitors and events related to the Turner Contemporary exhibitions programme. Chipperfield completed the designs for the site, once earmarked for a never-realised 60-room hotel by Guy Hollaway Architects on a pro bono basis, with development costs expected to be raised from donations.
‘It is clear that Turner Contemporary could safeguard its [financial] situation through the development of the neighbouring site,’ says Chipperfield, ‘And we have given the gallery a proposal that could complement it well.
‘Rather than an explicit real estate development, as previously explored, the idea is that the gallery builds a hotel/hostel and events building that both expands the opportunities of the cultural institution and generates an annual income.
‘[The scheme] would provide very basic accommodation at affordable rates to allow visitors beyond the local area to spend time in Margate, particularly in connection with the activities of the gallery.’
Visualisation of David Chipperfield’s proposal for a new hostel adjacent to an extended Turner Contemporary gallery at Margate
Also being put forward separately are plans to extend the main gallery building. Last year Arts Council England awarded a grant of £3 million towards the project, which aims to generate more income, provide extra space for staff and extend artistic and learning programmes. An architect to take that project forward is expected to be announced soon.
The opening of the Turner Contemporary has been a game-changer for the town, according to local architect Sam Causer, who says: ‘As a peninsular town, people don’t “just pass through” Margate.
As a peninsular town, people don’t ‘just pass through’ Margate
‘The gallery brought visitors here, some of whom stayed overnight, realised it is a really nice place to be and decided to move down to set up in business. The high-speed railway link now also makes it convenient for commuters who might only need to be in London once or twice a week.’
The Turner Contemporary is just one piece of a jigsaw that has involved years of effort from community and public sector organisations to boost the town. Nick Dermott, heritage development adviser (and chartered architect) at Thanet District Council says: ‘When I came into my role in 1996, the old town was all boarded-up. It took a grant scheme from the council to bring those buildings back into use. The gallery opening helped that process, but it wouldn’t have happened just with the free market alone.’
A case in point is the town’s Dalby Square. Dubbed ‘Sicko Square’ in a News of the World article in 2010, it is now subject to a £2.5 million Townscape Heritage Initiative-supported scheme aimed at changing perceptions of the 1860s development. The centrepiece of the scheme is a project by Lee Evans Partnership to turn a subdivided terraced property into a home that can accommodate up to 12 people from different generations.
With 720 listed properties, heritage is a key part of the town’s regeneration efforts. In 2011 the council served a compulsory purchase order for the aquisition of the Dreamland amusement park from its then owners, the Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company. Thanet Council’s aim was to ensure the land and buildings would not be used for a retail park or housing, and it brought forward a scheme to reinstate the pleasure park and other facilities that had once run on the site. The facility, masterplanned by Wayne Hemingway and designed by Guy Hollaway Architects, opened in 2015, and nowadays regularly hosts concerts attracting crowds of up to 15,000.
The town is also becoming a burgeoning centre for ‘creative types’, partly thanks to council support. Causer says: ‘Our practice got £42,000, which enabled us to buy our office. There were a number of progressive elements in the council who allowed the creative community to flourish here.’ Dermott adds: ‘These grants have de-risked the choice of moving to the area if you are an artist.’
Former Margate resident Tracey Emin, once the ‘enfant terrible’ of British art and now a Royal Academician, is among them. Following her failed attempt in 2016 to create a new studio, designed by Chipperfield Architects, in London’s Spitalfields, Emin is set to return to the town she grew up in. In April she was granted planning permission to create a studio and flat in the disused Thanet Press building. The scheme was worked up by GC Office, the company run by Gabriel Chipperfield, son of David.
Causer says the Thanet Press building scheme, which also includes proposals for a new Carl Freedman gallery designed by 2018 AJ Small Projects winners Matheson Whiteley, was generated ‘bottom-up’.
Matheson whiteley model margate
Source: Matheson Whiteley
‘The building is a conglomeration of 200 years of printing history. There was an application to build 60 one-bedroom flats and we put together a preapplication document saying we thought it should be repurposed as studios,’ he adds.
‘We got together with other architects and community groups and showed there was demand for it to be put back to use, so demolition was not justified.’
In a sign of the changing fortunes of the town, hotels of yesteryear are also being brought back to life. ‘One former hotel has recently changed hands and the owners of another are terminating leases in their building,’ says Dermott. Both are set to reopen in the capacity they were originally designed for.’ In June, in another sign of the burgeoning tourist market in the town, Guy Holloway Architects was granted permission for a seven-storey, 117-bed boutique new build hotel, benefiting from seafront views.
But is the transformation from benefits backwater to boutique hotel hotspot likely to lead to an anodyne environment? Not according to Hemingway, who says: ‘You can get all the food that London and Brighton have, like properly made pizzas.
‘It has got the full gamut from super-cool to rough as you like. When I am long-buried, it still won’t be some rich man’s playground.’