December 9, 2022

The Spectator highlights 'The remaking of Margate'

A new film is shining the spotlight on this Kent town's reinvention, explains The Spectator

The Spectator highlights 'The remaking of Margate'

In a recent article, The Spectator highlights how Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes' new film, Empire of Light, is shining the spotlight on this Kent town's reinvention.

The article is as follows:

'The faded splendour of 1980s Margate is the backdrop for Sam Mendes’s new film Empire of Light, starring Olivia Colman and Colin Firth. Coming to UK cinemas on 9 January, it’s about a romance in the north Kent seaside town and the revival of a striking 1930s cinema with a distinctive brick ‘fin’ tower.

Renamed briefly as the Empire Cinema during filming in the spring, Margate’s Grade II-listed Dreamland Cinema takes a starring role. In reality it’s part of the Dreamland amusement park complex that’s had 102 years of rollercoaster fortunes. The park underwent a £25 million makeover in 2017, and its relaunch contributed to the reinvention of Margate into an artistic and creative hub – driven by the opening of the Turner Contemporary gallery and Tracey Emin’s purchase of a large waterfront complex to create a museum and artists’ studios.

The Dreamland Cinema’s distinctive ‘fin’ tower

With its eclectic mix of hip new additions, tracts of gentrification and down-at-heel edges, Margate remains a Marmite choice for visitors and home-buyers, despite the culture-led regeneration. You either think it’s cool or you don’t.

Kate Harrison, who arrived in Margate from East London 12 years ago, says: ‘It’s an entrepreneurial, diverse town where anything goes. It’s not (gentrified) Whitstable and there are issues it still struggles with’ – a reference to the fact that Thanet has some of the highest poverty and drug-related crime levels in Kent.

Kate is managing the new Margate branch of Selina, the co-working hotel brand that aims to persuade digital nomad millennials and Gen Z-ers to swap city life for desk space with sea views (free until the end of the year), Pilates classes, beach yoga or an upcycling workshop run by local artists.

The lobby of Selina in Margate [Felix Dubord]

The town has been inducing Londoners to visit since the 1730s when flat-bottomed boats called hoys took up to three days to carry sea bathers to the burgeoning resort. Now it can take as little as an hour and 20 minutes to reach by train from the capital, and a steady stream of creative and space-seeking Down from Londoners (especially East Londoners) have been helping to push up property prices in the town.

In the past three years average prices have increased a chunky 30 per cent, with the proportion of properties sold at over £500,000 this year double that of 2019, according to Hamptons using Land Registry data. The average house – now £353,730 – has increased in value by 117 per cent over the past decade; flats, now averaging £167,950, by 91 per cent.

A one-bed period flat will cost nearer £200,000, while a Victorian four-bedroom house in a decent condition will be £550,000-plus, says Chris Sandford, branch manager of Mann Margate. ‘It’s less expensive than Broadstairs but has overtaken Ramsgate now, with all the interest from Londoners to move here, or to open restaurants,’ he says.

This five-bedroom terraced townhouse is priced at £800,000 [Your Move]

At the top end of the market a stylishly renovated five-bedroom terraced townhouse overlooking the beach is for sale at £800,000 (through Your Move); or a two-bedroom flat in the old town is on at £265,000 with Miles & Barr.

Sandford says interest has ‘slowed down’ among Airbnb investors, who might face some void periods in the tough weeks ahead as well as dealing with recent interest rate rises. The number of short-term rental properties listed has increased by 57 per cent since 2019, according to market analyst AirDNA. Demand is up on last year but hasn’t kept pace with the growth in the number of listings, they report.

The Libertines’ hotel, Albion Rooms

But Airbnbs aside, there are plenty of tempting boutique hotels for weekenders. Along with the Libertines’ art-filled Albion Rooms (complete with a recording studio for hire), there’s the new Fort Road Hotel, created by Matthew Slotover and Tom Gidley, co-founders of the Frieze contemporary art magazine and fairs, along with developer Gabriel Chipperfield.

Filled with artworks by Emin, Gidley and more, the restaurant’s menu is inspired by late 19th century and early 20th century food writers such as Mrs Beeton and Elizabeth David. Margate’s culinary scene continues to evolve, too, with current highlights including the Michelin-starred Angela’s and its sister restaurant, Dory’s – a great seafood bar by the beach – and the Rose in June pub.

The restaurant at the Fort Road Hotel

The old town is now full of independent businesses, yet Londoner Francesca Wilkins saw that among the galleries and restaurants there was no bookshop. After four years seeking the right premises she found a small Georgian property on Market Place to open the Margate Bookshop in 2019. It has become a hub of events and socialising.

Francesca Wilkins outside the Margate Bookshop

‘There’s a real sense of people giving things a go here,’ she says. ‘But I didn’t want to open a pocket of London – the Shoreditch-on-Sea thing has been but gone. I wanted to create an inclusive place for everyone – this area has low levels of literacy. I love the strong sense of community and optimism.’

Our latest development Gallery Walk Margate is situated in Margate, consisting of 48 apartments in the burgeoning art district of reborn coastal town Margate, just a few minutes walk from the seafront. Find out more about Gallery Walk Margate here!