“I’ve been going to Broadstairs arcades since I was ten and still haven’t won on the crane machine”

“Summer hots up at the Great British Seaside”, according to the official caption. Anyway, this is Margate. Image: Getty.

Every Christmas, lots of people from small towns and villages across the country head home to the places that their city friends forget exist. Trading the lively lights of London – it’s usually London – for the countryside, seaside or whatever other sort of sticks, the pilgrimage back to where you’re from is usually a mixed bag. It’s a weird balancing act between the warmth of nostalgia and the reminders of why you left.  

For me, that comes on the Isle of Thanet, which comprises the seaside towns of Ramsgate, Margate and Broadstairs, as well as several smaller villages, and is Kent’s most easterly point. It was formerly separated from the main land by the 600m-wide Wantsum Channel, but over the course of the last millennium the channel became filled up with sediment from the River Stour and the shingle that was collected along its coast helped to attach Thanet to the rest of England. The name, though, has stuck. 

And there’s something so fitting about it. Thanet has an island mentality: fiercely proud and protective of its local culture and history, while simultaneously suspicious of the world beyond its borders. Multiple generations of Thanesian families attend the same schools, drink in the same pubs and live in the same neighbourhoods as their parents. Those who do leave the Isle – for work or university – rarely venture very far, visit regularly, and often come back to settle down in the long term.

Though aspects of the Isle represent the quintessence of Kent – grammar schools, leafy suburbs and easy commutability to London – Thanet has enough patches of poverty and teen pregnancies to qualify as a Home Counties black sheep.

The Isle’s claims to fame, or infamy, depending on your disposition, include: Charles Dickens writing his novel David Copperfield while holidaying in Broadstairs, Margate artist Tracy Emin making the shortlist for the Turner Prize, Margate providing the setting for an episode of Only Fools and Horses, former prime minister Sir Edward Heath attending Chatham House Grammar School in Ramsgate, and former Ukip leader Nigel Farage trying, and failing, to be elected as South Thanet’s member of parliament twice. In 2017, Ramsgate’s old Royal Victoria Pavilion casino was converted into the biggest Wetherspoon pub in the country, and by extension, the world. 


Growing up on the Isle, my own feelings towards Thanet went through phases. I loved the beaches, parks and promenades. I loved the enduring pride and presence of local businesses – my first part-time job was at the butcher J.C. Rook and Son’s – and I was lucky enough to go to a very well-run school in Chatham House, which gave me opportunities I probably wouldn’t have got elsewhere.

But for all those perks, Thanet came with caveats too. The Isle, which has an overwhelmingly white-British population, is nonetheless convinced that immigrants are taking over and that political correctness has gone too far. As an ethnic minority from Thanet, let me say that nothing stings quite like being told to “go home” when you already are. 

That’s not to say that everyone from Thanet is a racist, but is to say that Thanet is home to a lot of racists, who take tabloid headlines at face value, and treat immigrants as a convenient scapegoat for the area’s wider problems. Margate’s Cliftonville neighbourhood, one pub pundit told me during my last visit home, is a “no-go zone” due to its large number of refugees. It’s really not.

Thanet’s more liberal-minded youth – who do exist – tend to flee to the city if they get chance, but even then there’s a strange magnetism that keeps us going back. I have plenty of gripes about the Isle, yet I can’t imagine going more than a few months without visiting. Family ties play a big part in that, of course, but even independent of those, there’s still something addictive about the area. I’ve been going to Broadstairs arcades since I was ten and still haven’t won on the crane machine.

When I was in sixth form, first getting to grips with Thanet’s spectacularly poor nightlife, which is characterised by pubs which think turning the volume up on their music makes them clubs, or a few cans down one of the bays, I remember making plans with my friends to leave this all behind us. But none of us have, and over the Christmas break, we’ll be back on the same beaches, in the same bars, ruing how the mega Spoons has ruined Ramsgate harbour trade, most likely before heading to the mega Spoons ourselves. 

The Isle of Thanet is not, as the Daily Telegraph once described it, “The Kent Riviera”. It’s not an island, either, but the beaches are lovely, and it is home.

You can hear Rohan talk about Thanet on Skylines, the CityMetric podcast.

This article previously appeared on the New Statesman.

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.