A 10-year regeneration project has resulted in creative and tech start-ups flocking away from London and into Folkestone, improving the local economy and restoring a sense of community to this seaside town.
In 2002, Folkestone was a dying town; its former glory days as a fishing port, gateway to Europe and seaside holiday destination had faded away, taking the lifeblood of the local area with it, until a philanthropist decided to bring culture and creativity to one particularly run-down corner.
Roger De Haan, the former chairman of Saga, set up a charitable trust and placed a significant investment into a new charity, the Creative Foundation, designed to restore the area’s vitality by encouraging creative enterprise.
The money was used to buy 90 buildings across three streets with a park interlinking them, with the understanding that the properties could only be leased to creative industries.
Local events, such as book festivals and art installations were also funded by the charity and the creative tenants have begun to roll in.
Occupancy in the area has increased by 15% over the past year - it's now at 80%. It hosts more than 60 artists, more than 20 retailers and some 40 residents.
From independent film companies, to animation studios and artists – the creative hub is going from strength to strength, and is helping the local community.
Kent County Council told Huffington Post UK that since the quarter was established, Folkestone had enjoyed:
- Greater number of visitors down from London
- Relocations of creative businesses from London and the Rest of Kent
- Upgrade in a number of properties
- More national coverage - especially linking in with Rocksalt, the new restaurant on the harbour, that highlights the emergence of Folkestone as an attractive coastal town
Alistair Upton, chief executive of the Creative Foundation, joined the movement in 2011 and was drawn by the "visionary piece of thinking" which saw regeneration plans move beyond simply replacing a few run down buildings.
"This was a totally immersive project," he told Huffington Post UK. "It was totally engaged, looking at everything from the buildings to the infrastructure to surrounding education and putting on arts events. It was designed not just to get people to visit, but to get them to set up their business here.
"The remarkable thing is, I went out recently to meet all of the tenants in the buildings and all of them were saying how much they liked Folkestone and how they wouldn't have moved here if it hadn't been for the Creative Quarter."
Paul Carter, Kent county council leader, told Huffington Post UK Folkestone had more potential than any other coastal town in the south of England and that the high speed railway line would bring "massive opportunities" to the area which haven't been recognised yet.
Initially, some residents had expressed concerns about the quarter's impact on the local area, but the atmosphere around the sector is now more positive.
"People who live in the area probably don't see the transformation because it's incremental, but year on year the changes have been sizeable," said Carter.
"The area's not a significant size but people will start to see the flywheel turning and suddenly we'll see significant investment and regeneration taking place."
Carter added he'd also like to see tourism given a regenerative boost, an area which was once the lifeblood of Folkestone but has suffered in recent years.
Case Study: Cognitive Media
Andrew Park founded Cognitive Media in 2004, building on his experience as an illustrator and as a scribe - working at high-profile conferences and events, creating visual representations of conversations as they happen, acting as a visual translator.
Cognitive Media has expanded this work further into video, developing the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce Animate series, designed to provide innovative and accessible animated representations of world-changing ideas and issues.
The company now works for a wide range of international clients, including Coca Cola and the BBC.
Park moved from London to Folkestone in 2007, and has built a core team of 10 animators and designers, all from the local area. Cognitive Media also makes every effort to support local suppliers and take advantage of the area’s abundant talent in producing their work.
Rob Coward, business manager at Cognitive Media, said: "The Creative Quarter is an exciting place to be, and retains the dynamic feel it had when we started out here.
“We love Folkestone, it’s a great place, an hour from London and five minutes from the beach. Being in the Creative Quarter helps our team to think creatively, and we’ve been able to call on a range of excellent local talent as the business has grown.
“Everyone knows about the Folkestone Triennial and the Book Festival, but what we’re particularly keen to emphasise is that there are a lot of exciting creative businesses here, and the potential is there for it to grow and grow.”