Opinion: Seaside Regeneration

As we plan for the colleges move to Stratford in 2022, a place that has seen huge investment and growth in the last decade, the concept of regeneration is often at the forefront of our thinking and as a college we are keen to learn from other towns and cities that have undergone a similar change.

In recent years, some of the places that have seen the most dramatic regeneration are British seaside towns.

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George Street, Hastings

Rather than looking back at their ‘faded glory’, seaside towns like Margate, Hastings or Whitely Bay are building on the potential of their past to create a new, more positive future.

Culture has played a huge role in this regeneration, with its impact on the community, the environment, local businesses and the economy.

Last year we visited Margate, a town that is undergoing a huge renaissance and has quickly become a hotspot for DFLs (Down from Londoners). The cultural regeneration of the town has been largely driven by the Turner Contemporary gallery, which celebrates the town’s association with JMW Turner.

When we were there, I couldn’t help but notice the way the Old Town (a stone’s throw from the gallery) has been transformed in recent years with a number of boutiques, galleries and independent businesses thriving.

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Butler’s Emporium, Hastings

To explore this idea of coastal town regeneration further, this year we took a trip to Hastings, on the south coast. Hastings is now home to the Jerwood Gallery, which – much like the Turner in Margate – has contributed to the town’s recent regeneration.

There were protests against the gallery’s development, with some believing that it should not have been located on the site of a former coach park – which brought in day trippers – and that it would negatively impact on the business of local fisherman – whose fleet are based just next to the gallery.

However members of Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society were involved in the inception of the gallery, being on its steering committee, and have been very supportive.

The gallery is located on the edge of the shingle beach which acts as the base for the town’s fishing fleet. The shingle is covered with beached boats and beautiful black wooden huts called ‘net shops’, unique to Hastings.

The black façade of the Jerwood is reminiscent of the fishermen huts it surrounds, so it blends in sympathetically to its surroundings, while also not imitating the huts. It’s as modest as a modern, international art gallery could be.

Its exhibition programme is relevant and accessible, with an emphasis on local artists and when we were visiting there was an exhibition of new Quentin Blake works.

Like Margate’s Turner, the Jerwood is located near the Old Town area of Hastings, which has developed an amazing selection of second hand shops and boutiques.

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Warp & Weft, Hastings

The streets of George Street and High Street are packed full of interesting shops. Highlights included, Warp & Weft, a fantastic shop that makes many of its own clothes and shoes on site in their upstairs workshop and Butler’s Emporium, a treasure trove of vintage furniture and gifts in a beautiful old hardware shop dating from 1831.

However the highlight has to be a visit to Alastair Hendy’s Homestore on the High Street, a unique shop and kitchen stocking new and vintage home goods, all of which are carefully sourced and curated by Alastair.

Alastair also owns a wonderful Tudor House, a 16th century former merchant’s house, which has been restored to create a magical atmosphere and an amazing journey back in time. Must visit.

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A.G. Hendy Tudor House, Hastings

These are just the highlights of what seems to be a thriving community of independent businesses. It is clear that the arrival of the Jerwood has had a big effect on the local economy, encouraging these types of small, niche shops to flourish.

However, there is a very clear distinction between the old and new parts of the town, and whilst I didn’t have time to explore the area fully, it seemed as though the regeneration was largely concentrated on the ‘Old Town’ area of Hastings.

Hastings remains England’s 13th most deprived town, with rates of divorce, unemployment and teenage pregnancy, all above the national average.

This is not unusual, as highlighted by Turning the Tide report, published by the Centre for Social Justice in 2013, seaside towns have high levels of unemployment, substance abuse and benefits dependency, as well as low levels of educational attainment and professional qualifications.

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Butler’s Emporium, Hastings

So although the Jerwood has definitely spearheaded a regeneration of the town, work still remains to ensure all people see the benefits of this. How do we protect against gentrification and rising house prices? How do we make sure the wealth of the town extends to all members of the local community?

I think education and especially the relationship between higher educational institutions and schools, plays a really significant role in developing skills and ambitions in young people to increase social inclusion and mobility. To make sure that all young people feel able to take part in this regeneration and can take advantage of the opportunities that arise.

This is something we are very passionate about at the college and there will be a regular update on our initiatives to support Stratford’s cultural regeneration ahead of our move there in 2022.

There are certainly challenges that remain for local authorities, but it is clear that cultural institutions are providing new relevance for coastal towns such as Margate and Hastings, harnessing their history and character in fresh and innovative ways.

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