This winter of 2010/11 will, I believe, be Margate’s last. Margate has desperately needed to escape from the all-or-nothing seasonality of the British seaside economy; in recent years the number of summer visitors just hasn’t been generating enough income for businesses to sustain themselves all year round. I think the Turner Contemporary (opening on 16th April 2011 if there’s anyone who didn’t know yet) is more than the perfect tonic for local business, it’s the magic pill.
The benefit of the predicted 130,000 annual visitors to Turner Contemporary is not just in the number. It’s in the fact that those visitors will be spread throughout the year. Tate St Ives is not quite the same in this regard where visitor numbers are significantly greater in the summer. Cornwall is a long way to travel, and people tend to pull in a visit to the gallery while they are on holiday. Margate is different – we’re a quick train ride from London, or indeed a quick plane ride from Edinburgh or Manchester. I’m not saying we’ll get 356 new visitors per day all year round, it’s bound to be skewed towards the summer, but even if we only have 100 new visitors to the town on a winter’s day the effect of that will be enormous.
Smoothing out that summer-only curve will transform the fortunes of local businesses and create sustainable non-seasonal employment. Shops and cafes will be open for more days per week in the winter, and for longer hours. There will be people on the streets with money in their pockets all year round. For the Old Town in particular, there will be no such thing as ‘out of season’.
It won’t stop there. When Margate is truly open for year-round business it will attract the knock-on, non-art gallery visitors – all those local people from Ramsgate and Broadstairs who hadn’t set foot in Margate for years, and visitors who decide to check out Margate for a weekend break instead of going to Whitstable, Broadstairs or Brighton. I feel sure that those people who have stuck with Margate, those who have invested here and those who have had the vision and courage to start quality new businesses here will be rewarded. Mark my words – this is Margate’s last winter.