The role of heritage in the regeneration of Margate

Historic environment and character can play an integral role in the success of a place, and this has been the focus of work by Historic England and its partners in Margate. This case study forms part of the Value of culture - visitor economy section of our online Culture Hub.


As one of England’s earliest and foremost seaside resorts, Margate was popular with day-trippers and holidaymakers during the 19th and for much of the 20th century. However, by the 1970s, its fortunes began to flounder as people deserted the English seaside in favour of low-cost holidays abroad and the promise of guaranteed sun. By the end of the 20th century, Margate, like many other resorts, had declined significantly. Lack of investment, poor quality accommodation and outdated facilities had all contributed to its demise.

In 1999, an action plan for Margate’s historic town centre was developed to address some of the symptoms of decline. Since then, Thanet District Council, Historic England and other partners have been working to make sure Margate’s rich and impressive heritage plays a significant role in its regeneration. The Margate Old Town Heritage Initiative, which attracted funding of £1.2 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, has helped to transform some of the previously neglected buildings within Margate’s Old Town area into attractive, desirable properties.

Impact of the project

At the turn of the millennium this area was in freefall with two-thirds of its shops lying empty. Today it is a characterful place of narrow streets and historic buildings with very high occupancy rates. Many of the shop fronts have been renewed to historic patterns and the public realm improved. This has made a significant difference to the local economy, attracting new shops, restaurants and businesses, and has made the Old Town a more vibrant and appealing place for people live in, work in and visit.

Dalby Square in Cliftonville is another area that has demonstrably benefitted from investment. Built in the 1870s as hotels and private schools, and largely unchanged externally, Thanet District Council designated the square as a conservation area in 2010. A grant scheme was set up (funded 75 per cent/25 per cent by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the council), resulting in this area of fine late Victorian townscape undergoing a radical facelift. Repairs have been carried out to windows, doors and rendered facades and lost architectural features reinstated, transforming a very rundown area. With strong public support for the designation of this conservation area, the district council has since designated other areas in Cliftonville.  

Research by Historic England into Margate’s heritage has helped to identify a number of places that are worth celebrating and protecting through listing, such as the seawater baths at Cliftonville and the Nayland Rock seaside shelter. This would preserve important historic buildings of value to the community and visitors. Others, such as the Scenic Railway and Dreamland Cinema, have had their listings upgraded to Grade II*.  

The cultural outcomes achieved by this and other partnership work in Margate have included:

  • major local attractions opening or re-opening
  • a 32% growth in the number of businesses working in arts, culture and the creative industries across Thanet (2008-2013)
  • a 71% increase in the number of artists’ studios.

Key learning points

  • Improving the historic environment and character of a place can lead to places being much better to live in, work in, do business in and visit.
  • Success should be publicised: there has been a clear shift in national and local media coverage of Margate, which now focuses more on regeneration and vibrancy rather than on decline and loss.
  • Research and the designation of conservation areas and listed structures leads to local heritage being better understood and managed by all partners, including the community.

For further information contact Owain Lloyd-James, Head of Development Research, Historic England: owain.lloyd-james@historicengland.org.uk  


Thumbnail

This case study has been developed in conjunction with Arts Council England