I last went to Margate twenty years ago on August bank holiday, when I saw one man on the beach walking his dog. So when we went to visit Turner Contemporary the other day, I thought things may have changed for the better. They haven’t.
The Turner is a bubble surrounded by poverty, squalor and deprivation, despite the fact that it has free entry and there were a group of very old ladies and their carers in the vegan-inspired café when we were there.
My parents took us to Margate in the fifties, before we could afford to go to Italy, when we jostled to find a space on its lovely sandy beaches. Now it’s the ultimate in left-behind, not only losing its principal industry, tourism, but having been used as a dumping ground for homeless families for a generation. Cliftonville, which Baedeker described as the most fashionable part of the town, now has the most social deprivation and is one of the poorest parts of Britain. The the poorest and most desperate congregate in the neglected 70s College Square shopping centre.
I have to admire the vision of the Thanet councillor who stuck with the idea of Turner Contemporary for twenty years until it was realised, but having worked in economic regeneration for a long time, I can say with confidence that it contributes nothing to the lives of the people I saw in College Square.
The most cost-effective economic development in my experience is targeted basic skills training. For £1,000 you can transform someone’s life. But that’s not visible and trainees are not glamorous. Politicians prefer large, expensive buildings that they can be photographed in front of with important people. Turner Contemporary was opened by the Queen.