Hinterland - 07 October 2019

In Hinterland this week - I have devoted most of the stories to a small town agenda. We have an arts transformed Margate, the ongoing crisis of rough sleeping, economic downturns on the High Street, a positive spin off from the Route 66 of the Highlands with scope for local replication, towns as hubs of re-design and as places which run dry of the dreaded Costa Coffee. Read on...

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Turner Contemporary: Did art transform 'no-go zone' Margate?

For those of us struggling with an agenda for small towns, this tale of revival linked to Ronnie Bigg’s favourite seaside retreat is inspirational. It tells us:

Margate's £17.5m art gallery Turner Contemporary opened in 2011 with hopes it would spearhead the regeneration of one of the most deprived parts of the UK. Since then the gallery has had several hit shows and is hosting this year's Turner Prize. But how much has it changed the surrounding town?

Tracey Emin grew up in Margate in the 1970s, when the north Kent resort was still attracting crowds of holidaymakers to its "golden mile" of sand, jellied eels, buckets and spades and Kiss Me Quick hats.

But by the 1980s the town had become a "no-go zone", she recalls.

As visitors found other destinations abroad, Margate - like other seaside resorts - had fallen into sharp decline. 

At its lowest ebb, it was an unloved town of boarded-up shops, deserted trains, empty streets and derelict arcades. Its theme park had closed and it was home to some of the poorest communities in the country.

Emin has never wavered in her passionate support for her hometown, believing in its beauty, its sunsets and skies. These famously also inspired the Romantic artist JMW Turner, after whom both the Turner Prize and the Turner Contemporary are named.

he brand new glass-clad Turner Contemporary opened its doors eight years ago on the seafront site of a cottage where JMW Turner had stayed.

Emin predicted visitors would discover a "different, edgy, sexy" town.

Since those first visitors arrived, the town has undergone a transformation.

The theme park Dreamland has reopened, the quaint streets of the Old Town have filled up with quirky cafes, stylish restaurants and vintage shops, and across the town, galleries, studios and cottage industries have opened.

Rambling old houses have become desirable again and even the gardens have been smartened up. 

Now Margate makes the news for its hipsters, its London cool and celebrity residents, such as The Libertines frontman Pete Doherty.


Homelessness crisis is the result of years of neglect

This is a really important piece of social commentary about the phenomenon of rough sleeping which assails many small places where we just wouldn’t previously have expected to find people in such visibly desperate circumstances. Perhaps they were always there?? Makes you (me) think…..

We can look closer to home than Germany, the US and Finland to combat rough sleeping (Hundreds of people are dying on our streets. Let’s give them homes, Editorial, 3 October). As a result of Blair’s cross-departmental initiative introduced in 1997, rough sleeping stood at 532 on any given night in England in 2001. By 2018 it had risen to an estimated 5,000 people, and, as your editorial points out, 726 people, or on average two a day, die on the streets.

Yes, a Housing First approach is urgently needed, not least because of the neglect of social housing by successive governments over the last 20 years. A desperate situation has been compounded by draconian cuts since 2010, the impact of universal credit on the most vulnerable, and the cutting to the bone of preventive services to address mental health, drug and relationship problems when they first arise. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we are creating a welfare system underpinned by punishment, regulation and deterrence, that legitimises the sacrificing of the street homeless.


High street suffers worst September since 2011 amid Brexit fears

We continue our theme about factors affecting market towns with this rather depressing news about the high street…..

High street shops had their worst September for eight years thanks to Brexit uncertainty, new figures suggest, and one key sector saw purchases at their lowest since the 2008 recession.

Other factors contributing to an in-store sales fall of 3.1 per cent, compared with a year prior and after an already weak 2.7 per cent drop, included plummeting footfall and closures of big-name chains.

It was the poorest September since 2011, according to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker.

Weaker discretionary spending resulted in the lifestyle category suffering a 5.4 per cent drop, its worst performance since the height of the recession in November 2008.


The North Coast 500 generated £22.8m for the north Highlands' economy last year, according to new research

There is controversy about the rural congestion at peak times caused by this Scottish “route 66” but it is increasingly important to the small towns which thrive on its throughput of traffic. This story tells us:

Also known as the NC500, the 516 mile-long (830km) touring route takes in a network of roads around the region's north, east and west coasts.

The study by Glasgow Caledonian University's Moffat Centre for Tourism also reported 180 new jobs were created in 2018 linked to the route.

The NC500 was launched as a tourism concept in 2015.

According to the study, north Highlands tourism businesses such as tour operators and camper van rental firms reported year-on-year growth of 16% from 2014-2018. 

An additional £13.4m in sales was also generated for accommodation, attraction and retail businesses on or near the route in 2018.


A chance to have my own voice': the care users redesigning support

In a slight change of theme I offer you this article, inspired by my recent trip to 65 High St Nailsea where community and service user planning, in a small hub town are key activities. This write up relates to Essex but the same is true of an increasing number of places where harnessing the user voice is driving out efficiencies. This happens where organisations are brave enough to listen to what people want rather than making choices for them. It tells us:

During the collaborative project between April and July, Sayer helped Essex county council create a health and care “one-stop shop” at a community venue in her Saffron Walden neighbourhood. This encourages learning disabled or autistic people to get help and information without visiting council offices. At a single session, 20 people got advice from professionals including social workers, voluntary sector care providers and employment advisers. The sessions now run monthly.

Sayer also helped launch an “easy read” (accessible) magazine featuring local events. “It’s a great way for people with autism and learning disabilities to find out about local news, events and jobs and services that might help them,” she says. The magazine was designed and printed by learning disabled people and there are plans for a regular publication produced by a permanent editorial team. These projects aim to boost support, opportunities and community connections.

The project in Essex was part of the 100 day challenge, a programme run by innovation charity Nesta that looks for alternatives to traditional top-down health and care support. Launched five years ago, the challenge encourages frontline health and care professionals to imagine new ideas, influenced by people who use services. Essex county council is the latest to follow the method and features in a new Nesta report.

The work involved communities in Saffron Walden, Canvey Island and Colchester. Among the new projects influenced by learning disabled people in Colchester, nine young people with learning disabilities ran book club sessions that are now being rolled out to three schools and a leisure centre. The launch of an inclusive cricket match in Canvey Island – an idea from a learning disabled sports fan – sparked weekly events at a leisure centre and plans for inclusive matches at a cricket club.


And Finally

I experienced the fag end of the phenomenon identified below whilst queuing to pay for my fuel at the local coop convenience store earlier this week. The Costa machine is next to the cash point and I erroneously thought (hoped) it was giving out free cash – only to find that not only was this not true but that the coffee had all gone as well….

Costa customers disappointed as vending machines run out after chain promises free coffee all day

Costa customers were thrilled when the chain revealed it would be giving out free cups of coffee on Tuesday, less so when the drinks had run out by 8am.

Last week, the coffee chain announced it would be offering complimentary coffees via its 8,500 Express machines across the country to mark International Coffee Day.

The aim of the initiative was to break down the supposed “stigma” attached to self-serve drinks machines, but customers were left feeling disappointed when they arrived to collect their free cup of coffee and find there were none left.

“Free Costa day is a great idea until they run out of cups at 07:55,” tweeted one person.

“Great idea – the reality is that the Sainsbury’s Local in Euston had already run out of cups by 07.25. Such a shame when objective is to create positive brand associations,” another added.


About the author:
Hinterland is written for the Rural Services Network by Ivan Annibal, of rural economic practitioners Rose Regeneration.


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