Spotlight on: Folkestone

Folkestone harbour

Folkestone harbour - Credit: Archant

Home to Open Quarter weekend this month, these are exciting times for Folkestone, the seaside town in the middle of a transformational redevelopment

It’s all go in Folkestone; a town in the middle of a remarkable redevelopment. In January a significant funding boost of £5m was secured from the Regional Growth Fund and it’s already being ploughed into the ambitious project to redesign of the seafront area, adding new homes, shops and leisure facilities.

The work, planned by architects Sir Terry Farrell and Partners, was begun in 2009 with the aim of revitalising the harbour and reconnecting the seafront with the town centre. The current phase, which should be completed this summer, will see the ancient port’s harbour arm transformed into a new pleasure pier.

While the far end of the arm is to become a modern pier with shops, bars and a café in the lighthouse, the heritage of the old military station in the harbour will be preserved. The renovation of the station will include information boards to honour the troops who set off for the Western Front from that very spot.

Spokesman for Folkestone Harbour, Trevor Minter OBE, said: “We are moving forward with this stage of the seafront development to make a clear statement about our intentions. Walks along the harbour arm will provide superb panoramic views of the Channel and of Folkestone and its coastline, and we hope it will reinforce the attractiveness of the site as a place for people to enjoy.

“This will be a significant further step towards renovation of the site as part of the longer-term redevelopment of Folkestone seafront.”

But while work continues to bring the seafront area into the 21st century, another part of the town is already leading the way.

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The beating heart of this vibrant seaside community has, for several years now, been the vibrant Creative Quarter in the historic centre of town.

An area developed by the Creative Foundation – a charity launched in 2002 to regenerate Folkestone through the arts, creative industries and education – it is quirky, exciting and hugely popular with both residents and visitors. Comprising the Old High Street, a cobbled lane lined with interesting independent shops, and Tontine Street, a busy thoroughfare linking the harbour with the centre of town, the area has become home to a thriving collection of artists’ studios, creative businesses, cafés, bars and restaurants.

At its heart is the Quarterhouse (CT20 1JT, 01303 858500), a contemporary venue that hosts many different events, concerts and shows. Add to that the surrounding jewellers, clothes boutiques, record shops, furniture stores and eateries and you have an area buzzing with creativity and energy.

But although the shops and cafés are always open to customers, the work of many of the studios and creative businesses goes on behind closed doors.

That’s why this month’s Open Quarter weekend (20-21 June) will give the rare opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes. Ioannis Ioannou, from the Creative Foundation, says: “This June and during Open Quarter 2015 we invite you to take the opportunity to explore Folkestone’s Creative Quarter, discover a new favourite café, find the perfect gift and meet the creative people who live and work in this thriving artistic hub. With a great selection of creative businesses, working artists, cafés, restaurants and unique curiosities, the Creative Quarter offers a warm welcome to all.”

My Town

Alan Smith, local artist

Tell us a bit about you

I’ve been working as an artist making paintings and drawings since the 1970s and have taught fine art in art schools in London, Cheltenham, Chicago and Paris.

What brought you to Folkestone?

We – I’m married to the writer Lennox Morrison – wanted to move back to England after eight years in France to be nearer to family and friends.

Being by the sea is deeply appealing to both of us and Folkestone has a great atmosphere, combining a sense of place with a sense of purpose through regeneration. Nikki Tompsett at the Creative Foundation was terrific about finding me a studio when I met her and helped cement the decision to move here.

Do you enjoy living and working here?

It’s just over a year since I moved here and I have been in six exhibitions in London, Paris and Kassel in Germany, and won an international drawing prize. It’s been a great move.

I really like my studio and the walk there along The Leas, looking down from the cliff to the sea. Being able to get to London by train in under an hour is a huge bonus.

What do you like about the town?

The town looks after The Leas and coastal garden and other spaces really well so there is a sense of pride combined with the romantic faded grandeur of the traditional English seaside.

I also like the way events bring a crossover between the Creative Quarter and the town. The Open Quarter in June is when the studios are thrown open and hidden talents are suddenly on show; on The Old High Street, look out for Richard Collet’s elegant drawings of nudes at number 43a and Fat Hen and Flo’s quirky, well-observed rag dolls at 11-15.

Why does it attract so many creatives?

Artists and makers have always needed affordable places to live and work and tend to look for places that have a very individual character away from the bland uniformity of chain shops and outlets.

It is really great that the Creative Foundation helps to underpin this and encourages a varied community of inventive, resourceful people who feel part of the regeneration of Folkestone.

Look at what happened to the SoHo area of New York post-war and the east end of London in the 1970s as a result of artists moving in.

Your favourite shops in the town?

The shops I really love are the ones where individual, inventive people make work that transforms the ordinary into something magical. At Anecdotes on Tontine Street, Steven Harkin uses beautiful leather to transform furniture and objects and to make his signature handbags.

On The Old High Street Kate Knight is an artist and entrepreneur in the Renaissance tradition and Nicola at Cursley & Bond curates and makes jewellery that would put most places in London and Paris to shame.

Your favourite places to eat and drink?

The best glass of wine is at Ampersand on Tontine Street, great fresh bread at Blooms restaurant, and I like a cup of tea at The Hatch overlooking the harbour.

How can people see your work?

The Open Quarter weekend is a good chance to see my work in the intimate setting of the studio. At other times people can contact me by email and arrange to visit:

Shopping and eating

There are no end of interesting independent shops in Folkestone. Some of our favourites are: The Great British Shop (CT20 1RL) for homewares and hand-made gifts, Rennie’s Seaside Modern (CT20 1RL), Anecdote Designs (CT20 1JT) and Vintage And Vinyl (CT20 1RN) for all things vintage and trendy, The Chocolate Pot (CT20 1RL) for sweets, chocolates and even the odd collectible, and clothing store Maisy-Jane’s Maternity Boutique (CT20 1RN).

When it comes to eating and drinking, Folkestone has it all. The recently opened Congo Café (CT20 1RN) is a welcoming new coffee shop on The Old High Street and The Ampersand Design Café (CT20 1JU) is always very popular.

One of our favourites is Beano’s (CT20 1JT) vegetarian restaurant near the Quarterhouse. Other popular choices include The Big Boys Burger Company (CT20 1RL), El Cortador (CT20 1RL) for great tapas, Rocksalt (CT19 6AA) with its speciality seafood and stunning views, and Blooms (CT20 1RW).

And of course what trip to the seaside would be complete without fish and chips? Plaice2go (CT20 1EZ) in Rendezvous Street is probably the best chippy in town.

Summer events

Open Quarter: 20-21 June

A chance to see behind the scenes at the Creative Quarter’s many studios. Visit for more information.

War and Peace Revival: 22-26 July

The biggest and most spectacular military vehicle event continues to draw thousands of visitors from all over Europe each year to its new venue, RAF Westenhanger at Folkestone Racecourse. Visit

Folkestone Harbour Festival: 15 August

Family events, raft races, food and drink to raise money for the RNLI. The festival has also been successful in its bid to bring the UIM European Powerboat Championships to Folkestone this year. Visit

Property prices

Pick up a five-bedroom detached house by the sea for between £450,000 and £800,000, a three-bed for between £170,000 and £500,000 or a two-bed terrace for around £160,000. And it must be one of the few places in Kent where you can still buy a one-bed flat for around £75,000.

Black & White (01303 473304) and Geering & Colyer (01303 473309) are just two of the many estate agents operating in Folkestone.

How to get there

Folkestone is on the coast between Dover and Hythe. It’s easily accessed off the M20 via Ashford by car and regular trains run to London Charing Cross (one and a half hours) and Dover Priory.

Sat nav for the town centre: CT20 1AU

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