Get to know our team in our new series of blog posts.
In our first blog, trustee Chris Crook talks about growing up in Margate and the changes that are taking place to establish it as a major creative hub in the South-East. Chris was born, raised and educated in Margate. He is a Chartered Surveyor in Planning and Development and has his own consultancy based in Thanet.
Growing up in Margate in the 1970’s, it was becoming obvious that fewer people were coming to Thanet for their holidays; Dreamland was not the place it once was, and we had to contend with all the strikes and power cuts and the disruption it caused. I remember doing my school homework with the light from my Tilley Lamp that I used for fishing. Even the fish were going away, and we might spend all night trying in vain to catch anything. So as soon as I could I got away too, like many of my friends, first to university and then to the bright lights of London. Apart from my family, there was nothing to keep me in Thanet anymore.
How wrong I was!
I recently represented the MCLT at a meeting organised by the Kent Developers Group and held at the Turner Gallery in Margate. It was great to hear from Thanet District Council, Kent County Council and Dreamland’s representatives quite how much is going on locally and what’s in the pipeline for Thanet in the future. It was a really exciting and stimulating event, and gave me good cause to reflect on what I was doing here in the first place. The prospect of a new railway station opening at Parkway later this year, fresh investment into Ramsgate Harbour, new creative businesses looking for significant amounts of new space in Thanet, award winning new restaurants building reputations, and a great line up at Dreamland during the summer. Amazing!
The stunning room we were in at the Turner looked out to sea, with the Antony Gormley sculpture just sticking out of the water as the tide was coming in. It brought back so many memories sitting in that precise spot, just where Margate Jetty used to stick out into the sea, and where the Ship Inn used to be, both of them places which had an impact on me as child and as an ambitious Margate lad.
As for the Ship Inn, I had my first ever pint of beer there, probably before I should have done, and it tasted awful. Truman Brown and Mild as I recall, and I couldn’t for the life of me understand what the attraction was. An ‘acquired taste’ was the advice given. Well all I can say is that you don’t see either of those beers on tap these days, but there’s no need as we have our very own independent brewers of specialist ales who are locally based, like Gadds, and the marginal increase in Kent’s climate has made English white wine a serious challenge to its French competitors.
I remember buying a ticket to walk up the pier and wondering if we might fall down into the water through the gaps in the planking, the smell of the tarred boards and the fishermen’s bait as they waited for the cod to bite. You could go down on to the lower levels at the pier head where the cast iron decking allowed the sea to pass through as the tide ebbed and flowed, and the waves rolled through and around your feet. We took our crab lines down there and caught starfish and hermit crabs. These days you are more likely to see anglers on their kayaks fishing over those spots and along the shoreline, with many Bass being caught with the improvement in water quality since the 80’s.
I taught myself to swim at the Nayland Rock pool by the old Sun Deck when I was about 7 years old. There used be a tanned bald-headed chap called Otto who rowed around keeping an eye on swimmers at that time, and he must have impressed me because many years later I became a Lifeguard on the Thanet beaches and occasionally patrolled the Marine Sands with the rest of the Water Safety team.
Back then we could not possibly have imagined that there would be today’s keen interest and active engagement in year-round sea-swimming or even the great numbers of surfers who now come to Joss Bay and other beaches to enjoy the waves when the conditions allow. And if you get the chance to watch the kitesurfers on a windy day, that is something else.
So, as my meeting came to an end, and some of the attendees went off to catch trains back to London, it made me appreciate how much difference the improved fast service into London has made to my ability to live and work back in Thanet again. I can get to central London meetings one hour faster than it took in 1980, I can work whilst I travel, and now we have an internet and mobile connectivity in every respect. But no virtual or video experience can quite capture the atmosphere, the reality, the smell and the sounds of the sea and the excitement that pervades Margate as it is today.