Folkestone, once a quiet Victorian seaside town which had lost its way, now proudly promotes a beating creative heart, a vibrant young business community and the promise of sporting excellence, with a venue for skateboarders and climbers (Urban Sports Park).
At the centre of this extraordinary rebirth is Creative Folkestone, which describes itself as “a visionary arts charity dedicated to transforming the town through collective creative activity, making it a better place to live, work, play and visit”.
The charity’s head of marketing and engagement Ioannis Ioannou is passionate about its work. Promoting the delights of Folkestone in his high-velocity Greek accent, he says: “The town now has a different vibe, a different energy. We are 55 minutes from London, we can offer businesses a great place to set up, in a community where they will find like-minded people.”
As its name suggests, creativity is at the heart of the charity’s work. It was set up in 2002 as the Creative Foundation, but has since personalised its name to focus on the areas in which it operates – principally the Creative Quarter, the Quarterhouse, the Folkestone Artworks trail, the Folkestone Triennial and annual Folkestone Book Festival.
The Creative Quarter is an area around Tontine Street, near the harbour, where the charity has bought and restored 90 buildings which it now lets. It also oversees about 80 flats, 115 studios and offices and more than 50 shops. As the website says: “Folkestone Creative Quarter is a playground for creative and digital businesses”.
The Quarterhouse is a performing arts venue, presenting a programme of drama, dance, music, film and family shows, as well as live links to the National Theatre and Royal Opera House.
Ioannis becomes even more animated as he moves on to possibly the biggest attraction for tourists – the Folkestone Artworks Trail, described as “the UK’s largest urban contemporary art exhibition”.
He explains: “We have on display, free and accessible 24 hours a day, 46 artists’ work in scenic and surprising locations, including works by Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley and Yoko Ono. The exhibition offers an experience like nowhere else in the world: great contemporary art that invites people to explore, examine and understand the town’s geography, history and potential future. This is unique internationally,” he proclaims proudly.
The final two attractions, the Folkestone Triennial and the Folkestone Book Festival, are growing in popularity. Work is well advanced in planning the next triennial, the town’s fourth, due in autumn 2020. Over the years, it has grown to become the largest exhibition of newly commissioned work presented in the UK, bringing more than 400,000 visitors to the town. Among its commissioned artists are Cornelia Parker, Christian Boltanski, Jeremy Deller, Martin Creed, Mark Wallinger, Cristina Iglesias, Richard Wilson, Andy Goldsworthy and AK Dolven.
The next book festival runs from 15 to 24 November this year. Its comforting slogan is “to gather, tell stories, exchange ideas and keep warm together.”
Ioannis is anxious to promote the charity’s ethos of “humanity” and the need to keep focused on providing work for the town, especially for its young people, as well as promoting Folkestone’s unique qualities.
“We are a small team, but we all inhabit what we do,” he assures me. “We are proud of what we have achieved and see change in so many positive ways.”
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