One of the delights of the quirky
From the 1960s until just after the millennium Margate, like most British seaside resorts, went backwards. It became "a dumping ground" (to use the phrase of a thinktank) for asylum seekers. Its proximity to south
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that
Two reports in
In the late 1990s, as the notion of culture-led regeneration took hold, the idea was mooted of building an art gallery in Margate. The risk was not helped by an overly ambitious first building project that was quickly abandoned. It would have been easy for
I remember back in late 2009, in a taxi that was going past the gallery construction site, the driver turned to me and said: "Mark my words, mate, in five years' time that'll be a benefits office." I am pleased that he was wrong, but I can understand the sentiment. In an environment in which nothing has worked, despondency and the search for scapegoats is a natural reaction. I assume he, like many in the area, will have voted for Farage's party at every recent opportunity. Seven out of eight available seats on the district council went to Ukip at the 2013 local elections.
Resentment and poverty of aspiration make for a heady brew. It takes more than individual success stories to turn around decades of neglect. Still, you have to start somewhere. Three years after it opened, Turner Contemporary has attracted close to 1.5 million visitors. It is seen as one of the most successful museums in the country, with exhibitions that have received widespread praise. There is also a strong emphasis on education programmes and jobs for the long-term unemployed. When the Queen visited in
However, television crews don't have to work hard to find bleak vistas; Farage has no shortage of backdrops for the "country we have lost" soundbite. Turning right out of the station, the visitor is confronted by a line of boarded-up shops. Yet for all the troubles and a deep recession, Margate is picking itself up.
It takes time, though, and the regeneration model doesn't always work. But when it does - as in
Some people in
Already the Farage effect is producing a benefit. The woes and wonders of a sometimes forgotten corner of England - in Roman times an island - will now be at the heart of the national debate.
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