Culture and universities ‘boost coastal town fortunes’

A breath of fresh air: An art installation enlivens Margate Pier

New views: The Turner Contemporary Art Gallery, MargateCultural and artistic initiatives that boost fading seaside towns would have a more long-lasting effect if business, government and universities worked together more closely, says new research from the University of Sussex.

South East Coastal Towns: Economic Challenges and Cultural Regeneration, commissioned by the Folkestone-based Creative Foundation with funding from the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), is the result of research by University of Sussex Professor Fred Gray and cultural regeneration expert David Powell, of David Powell Associates.

It highlights the hitherto unexplored potential of universities and colleges to contribute to and support cultural regeneration in coastal towns. The authors advocate the involvement of local colleges and universities in such projects to help ensure their long-term success – a vital factor when it comes to meaningful regeneration with beneficial knock-on benefits for communities.

However, the current climate of recession and threatened spending cuts, the authors argue, presents a real challenge to using culture and education to stimulate rundown coastal communities.

Mr Powell and Professor Gray, who is an expert on the cultural and architectural history of seaside resorts, examined how cultural activity has helped to revitalise economic prospects in four seaside towns in the South East: Bognor Regis, Folkestone, Margate and Portsmouth. Initiatives include: 

  • Margate: Investment in the Turner Contemporary art gallery; plans to turn the Dreamland amusement park into the first amusement park of historic rides. Higher Education yet to play a role in Margate’s regeneration;
  • Folkestone: Development of literary and other festivals, provision of higher education courses; a new “cultural quarter” via grass-roots entrepreneurship and the involvement of universities and colleges;
  • Bognor Regis: Butlin’s has developed 21st-century facilities for holidaymakers. There are higher education initiatives taking place in Bognor, but little in the way of integrated activity around town centre/cultural quarter development;
  • Portsmouth: Has developed a reputation for  maritime and heritage appeal in partnership with the University of Portsmouth, an established university and substantial regeneration partner.

Professor Gray says: “Decades of poverty and low self-esteem take more than a few time-limited projects to remedy. Cultural, educational and civic bodies need to work together effectively to make their towns work better. Higher education institutions need to deliver effective ways of engaging with and supporting local cultural organisations and networks, and of delivering professional development and management support to small cultural businesses.”

The authors conclude that Government should continue to treat coastal towns as a special group in need of continued development through investment in cultural and educational infrastructure. Government should also encourage the kind of cultural and educational enterprise that has taken place in the four study towns and cities.

Pam Alexander, SEEDA Chief Executive, said: "Changes in demography, leisure, social and environmental patterns and expectations have all created quite particular issues for our coastal towns. Some have proven more and others less resilient to the current economic downturn.  This report indicates that in working to build sustainable prosperity for all residents of our seaside towns we can draw from some outstanding examples of good practice that have been developed here in the South East."

Notes for Editors


David Powell Associates is a research and development company working in places where culture and regeneration can help build communities

SEEDA, the South East England Development Agency, is the Government-funded agency responsible for the sustainable economic development of the South East of England - the driving force of the UK's economy. Through supporting businesses, encouraging innovation, developing skills and engaging with public and private partners, it aims to create a successful, sustainable future for the region.

To read the report in full, visit 

For interviews with Professor Gray, contact the University of Sussex Press office. Tel: 01273 678 888 or email

The Creative Foundation is a key player in Folkestone’s regeneration and is mainly responsible for the purchase, refurbishment, and management of property in the town’s Creative Quarter and the development of a wide-ranging arts and festivals programme.

Last updated: Wednesday, 2 December 2009