British seaside towns like Margate are a much-loved part of our country's heritage, conjuring images of sandy beaches, amusements, fish and chips, and donkey rides. For generations, the town thrived as a popular destination for holidaymakers not only from London but from all over the UK.
But the advent of overseas package holidays, together with the downturn in traditional manufacturing industries (among a variety of other socio-economic factors), has resulted in decades of decline for British coastal resorts – and Margate is no exception.
The combined effects of deprivation, limited access to local amenities, unemployment and a lack of resources and opportunities have led to negative effects across the population of Margate.
Recently, however, the arts have become a key driver in the transformation of the town's flagging image, notably with the opening of the internationally acclaimed Turner Contemporary art gallery in 2011.
More than five years on, the Turner Contemporary is a well-known landmark on Margate's seafront and, with its Art Inspiring Change vision, has provided a focus for the town's regeneration. Recognised as one of the most successful galleries in the UK, it has featured several ambitious exhibition programmes, together with an ongoing schedule of educational workshops, activities and projects, attracting more than two million visitors in its lifetime.
Largely thanks to the gallery's creative drive, Margate is now home to a thriving arts community, with a growing number of independent galleries, studios and workshops showcasing local and national talent.
To mark its fifth anniversary, the Turner Contemporary commissioned a Social Return on Investment report to deepen the understanding of the gallery's impact on its visitors and participants through its lifelong learning and educational programmes, as well as its impact on local residents, retailers and artists, and the role it has played in the regeneration of the local area.
The pioneering study was carried out by Canterbury Christ Church University's Culture Offers at Seaside Towns (COaST) research centre, a dedicated group of researchers, academics and practitioners based in the Business School, but from a range of disciplines, including cultural studies, geography, and travel and tourism.
The findings of the report revealed that the Turner has helped to re-establish Margate as a destination, contributing significantly to the town's regeneration – with 48% of visits being made by those who specifically came to Margate to visit the gallery. Since 2011, over 960,000 people have visited the Turner Contemporary who would not have otherwise visited Margate. Of these visitors, 80,000 had never previously been to an art gallery. In 2015-16 alone, 72,000 visitors were from the Thanet region and 24,000 from Margate itself.
Further findings have shown that of the increased footfall from visitors to the gallery, 22% came from London and 5% have travelled from overseas. The footfall to Margate drops significantly when the main gallery is closed between exhibitions.
In addition, the net additional visitor-related expenditure in 2015-16 for the Kent economy was estimated at £7.8 million, supporting and safeguarding over 100 FTE jobs across Kent.
However, regeneration is about more than just buildings, physical infrastructure and economic return; it's also about changing and supporting people to realise their true potential.
With that in mind, the new study had a particular focus on the social value created by the Turner Contemporary. The methods used were based upon well-established SROI (Social Return on Investment) principles and set out to measure social value created relative to the value of the resources invested. Research was conducted using a range of methods, including interviews, focus groups, workshops, observation, surveys and desk research, establishing what had changed since the gallery's opening, who it had affected and by how much.
The study revealed that the gallery has had a significant effect on participants of its learning programme, bringing empowerment and inspiring self-belief, as well as providing a stronger sense of connectedness to family and friends. Participants also felt encouraged to be more active in society.
It also found that local residents had an increased sense of contentment living in Margate since the gallery opened: public spaces have become more pleasant, people feel safer and residents spend more time enjoying Margate outside of their homes. There was also a heightened sense of community cohesion. Changes to the town and an increase in the number of visitors solidify Margate's identity as a creative town 'on the rise' and people feel a shared sense of togetherness as a result of these changes, the report observed.
In addition, the Turner Contemporary has had a wider, ripple effect on the regeneration of Margate due to the additional footfall it has brought to the town and by the significant media coverage and brand awareness triggered by the gallery, which will become more apparent over the next decade.
Dr Andrew Jackson, Director of COaST, who led the project, said: "Our research has been significant in that it has shown there are real and measurable social benefits for people who have engaged with the gallery, and we have been able to put a financial valuation on these for the first time."
Underlining the importance of the Turner Contemporary's role in helping to transform Margate's image, he added: "The gallery has really helped to raise the brand of the town. Margate is now spoken about nationally as a great place to visit. In days gone by, it was seen as a holiday town. Now visitors are drawn to the town for the cultural offer and residents feel an increased sense of civic pride.
"Margate is re-emerging as a cultural destination and having that strong identity is essential for any town to grow and expand."
Victoria Pomery OBE, Director of Turner Contemporary, said: "At a time when our communities are becoming fractured and divided, this research brings great hope that art really does inspire positive change, and can help us to build a stronger, more creative and connected society in future."
It is hoped that the research will be used not only to understand the gallery's achievements, but also to inform future investments and support sponsorship and funding applications.
To read the full report, Turner Contemporary: Art Inspiring Change – Social Value Report (15/16), visit the Turner Contemporary website