Issue 11 - Winter 18/19 Issue

Page 43

Margate Mercury



Saviours of the Street Writer

Seb Reilly

Photographer Caroline Dyal

A decade ago Margate’s Old Town was dilapidated and down on its luck. We speak to two gallery owners pivotal to its rebirth about the changes they’ve seen since then

That was boarded up,” Janet Williams says to me as she points at a shop front across the street. “That one was boarded up too. And that one.” I’m stood in Lombard Street Gallery with owner Janet and her husband, Tim, who owns Pie Factory Margate on Broad Street. We’re looking out through the windows at the thriving shops, galleries and businesses. “I’ve really enjoyed being part of the regeneration of the Old Town over the last 18 years,” Janet tells me. “It’s interesting thinking back to what it was like then, how empty and dark it was. There were so few people during the day and at night it was like a ghost town. We used to laugh and joke that we could go to every event on, as there were so few, and now there’s so much it’s hard to decide what to do!” In 1999 an action plan to stop the decline of the Old Town was drawn up, and

“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster journey and we are still riding that rollercoaster” funding secured from various bodies for The Margate Old Town Heritage Initiative which encouraged new businesses to take on empty shops and other properties. Janet and Tim both smile as they recall how the Old Town has changed since then. Tim bought the Pie Factory in the late 90s and, after working with various tenants, decided to open studios upstairs and later an exhibition space on the ground floor. Janet opened the Lombard Street Gallery in 2008, though both of them had been involved in the Old Town regeneration for almost a decade by that point. “Everyone thinks they’ve saved Margate,” Tim says. “I quite like that; people are taking ownership of the place.” “We were investing in Margate,” Janet adds. “We love the town.”

Janet and Tim Williams

The corner of Lombard Street in 2002

It was the Margate Rocks festival that caught Janet’s eye. The Old Town was transformed into a vibrant, creative environment full of discovery and wonder, as for ten days derelict shops were filled with art. That was the point of change for Janet. It highlighted to her how powerful art can be in transforming a place, especially when driven by community action. “It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster journey and we are still riding that rollercoaster,” Janet says. “We all need each other and everybody’s contribution is essential.” The Lombard Street Gallery itself has grown with the town, adding an exhibition space and changing from opening a few days a week to every day in the summer. Janet and Tim continue to support other businesses,

recently running a campaign they referred to as ‘putting Lombard Street on the map.’ There’s a warmth to Janet and Tim; they are passionate people who visibly love where they are and what they do. They are welcoming, friendly, and throughout our conversation people keep dropping in to say hello as they have clearly made a positive impact on their environment. “My mother-in-law would often regale us with stories about Margate and Northdown Road before the war,” Janet tells me. “They generally ended with her saying ‘poor old Margate, look at it now.’ I am proud to have played a small part in turning that round.” The gallery is currently hosting an exhibition called TEN, created to celebrate ten years of business in the Old Town. A solo Anthony Giles exhibition begins in early 2019. Then they will be working alongside Turner Contemporary, showcasing the Turner Prize nominees. “That’s the wonderful thing about Margate; it just keeps on giving,” Janet says, drawing back to the rollercoaster ride of regeneration. “Despite the up and downs I wouldn’t have had it any other way!”