I moved to Folkestone from East London mid 2016. I meet a lot of people who pop into the gallery and are thinking of moving to the town, who ask me why I moved, how it is working out etc. Searching online, there are not many recent posts on chatrooms etc about actual experiences of moving to Folkestone so I figured a blog post here may be useful! I love living in Folkestone, especially during the summer months, and though I have found some challenges these are really just a function of the nature of the artwork I do and my own circumstances.
I would very much recommend Folkestone as a great place to live - there are a lot of friendly people, the scenery is gorgeous and I am often surprised by how quiet the beaches etc can be (though it is definitely getting busier, especially at weekends!). I have seen quite a few changes to the town since I moved nearly 2 years ago and and property prices seem to be rising too.
In doing the below, I wanted to write something completely honest, because upping sticks is a big deal and I do not wish to mislead anyone, so the below gets quite personal in parts. As I note however, much is probably not relevant to the experiences and situations of many people reading this but it is there anyway!
I am still putting the post together, adding bits as I find time, so this remains a work in progress and will update this soon. Check back for updates!
Why did I move to Folkestone?
I was living just off Hackney Road in East London (prior to that I had a flat in Tooley Street near Tower Bridge) and, whilst my flat was in a fab location just a short walk from Shoreditch, Broadway Market, Columbia Road and Brick Lane, I had been in London for around 15 years and wanted to do something new (I was having fun, loved the parties and social side etc but was in my mid 30s and wanted a change from that scene) plus, if I am being honest, I found London a different place (for me) to when I first moved there in 2002 (it had changed, and so had I, to whatever degrees). Terror attacks were grim, Brexit stuff made me lose faith in humans a little, I wanted to get away from the treadmill. Perhaps it was an early midlife crisis haha.
A lot of my pals had been priced out of the area in which I lived so many were going to Walthamstow and Peckham, or nearer Forest Hill, particularly those with kids. I had a large mortgage and worked 3 days per week in a City career and 4 days on the art stuff. I felt I wanted to move further out and have less of a mortgage and more freedom.
A friend suggested Margate (i.e. much further out!) as a lot of people she knew were looking there. I thought it couldn't hurt to look. I had already toyed with the idea of Brighton where I knew plenty of people, but the property prices were high, and I had decided the aim was to cut my mortgage, focus more on living on my artwork alone and also be close enough to London to get in easily and see my friends there, plus obviously much of my art career would remain there given the nature of the artwork I do (neon stuff).
I liked being by the sea and enjoyed the energy in Margate so I spent a number of weekends viewing many properties there, and whilst my available budget went far, I couldn't find anything quite right plus the 1.5 hour approx train journey either way was quite a lot to consider doing several times per week. I then also looked at Hastings where a few friends had moved also. I loved Hastings and St Leonards, but again the train journey to London was a long one and it was something I would need to do a lot, so I was reluctant. A pal who owns a lot of property around the south east coast suggested I look at Folkestone given the positive noise they had heard. I popped down and loved it - on that first visit decided it was the one I wanted to move to. There was a lovely feel about the town that I really liked, there is quite a lot of greenery around, plus property is much more affordable (not as cheap as Margate though and prices have definitely been going up) and there are some BEAUTIFUL buildings around, there are some nice cafes and restaurants (including vegan options), there are some really pretty parts of town (around The Leas), the beaches are quiet and clean, and, importantly, the HS1 train meant reaching Stratford International in 46 mins (or Kings Cross in 55 mins) which was half the time of Hastings or Margate. In addition to all this, and another key factor for me, was that the Creative Quarter was very appealing to me - an entire area being regenerated via a charitable organisation and specifically providing accommodation, studios and retail premises to creatives at good rates. Also, a lot of the regeneration seemed to be financed via private sources rather than relying on government funding, which in a time of austerity is obviously variable. I could see potential opportunities for me there to establish a business (or have a go anyway! You never know how "the dream" will work out until you really try it) in a town where creative industry-driven growth was being supported and encouraged.
Also, whilst a lot of people say "once you leave London you can never move back" I think that was a bit extreme. I had a great education, CV and lots of experience in quite a niche growth area of the financial sector etc (though I know Brexit isn't helping now) and nothing would ever be impossible with hard work so I decided to give Folkestone a go. I can always move back if needed (though recognise this is far easier for me as a single person without kids than someone whose family moves, kids are in school etc). I sold my London flat and bought a little two up two down house in Folkestone (I wanted to lock in the equity gains to be honest - many suggested I should rent but I didn't want the hassle). I had meant to go for a bigger place but heart over head loved a weird little unique semi detached former coach house). Life is too short / hashtagyolo / midlife crisis etc etc.
Did I know a lot of people before moving?
Nope, I knew one person here before I moved. It didn't bother me as getting into London was easy, social media etc makes it easy to remain in contact plus when I went to secondary school, university and new jobs I knew no-one in those places when I first started and always formed new friendship groups so it wasn't something that ever worried me. I like being alone a lot anyway so it wasn't going to be a major worry for me.
What is the community like in Folkestone, did I find it easy to meet new people?
Yes! Folkestone is small and there is a real community feel. I am quite an antisocial person to be honest (!) so do not participate in many of the social events etc in town but there is plenty going on for you to get involved with if you want to especially around Space Bar, Lime Bar, Performance Space and the Quarterhouse. I should give a special mention to Rachel and Saul who run Bounce and have been amazingly kind friends to me since I moved down here.
What are the best things about Folkestone? (in no particular order...)
In short, when the sun is out and you walk along the beaches, harbour arm and coastal park it feels like being on holiday in another country! Some of the highlights for me are:
-The Leas Coastal Park - One of the best features of Folkestone in my opinion is beautiful Leas Coastal Park and the fact the beaches and the coastal park feel quite secluded away from the roads/houses etc. This gives the area around the Park and Mermaid Beach a vaguely mediterranean and tranquil feel and is very different to say the beach fronts of Brighton and Hastings. On a sunny day it really is absolute bliss and, quite surprisingly, not too busy.
-Friendly, kind people. I have met some lovely people here and as the town is so small it does not take long to make new friends.
-The Harbour Arm in the sun! - the Harbour Arm is basically a concrete pier full of restaurants, a champagne bar, food vans etc and now there are also a few fab shipping containers turned into eateries and a hair salon. There is a lot of outside seating and it gets very busy with a party atmosphere. The Harbour Arm is brilliant. On a sunny day/evening it is glorious to watch the jet skis zoom around the harbour and there is sometimes a live band or dj out there too. Entry to the Harbour Arm itself is free. It isn't open all year (no point in winter plus safety considerations if very windy and rainy). Dogs are welcome. However, please note, you are NOT allowed to take your own alcohol onto the Harbour Arm. Sadly I didn't realise this when I first visited and ran along it one night with a half drunk bottle of Absinthe that I waved in front of some of the guys there who own one of the bars. Am still mortified to this day!
-The sea and beaches - you can see France on a clear day (and the lights on the French coast at night). We have a sandy beach named Sunny Sands (nb dogs are not permitted May-Sept). Sunny Sands will always be really busy in good weather, but the remaining pebble beaches are much less populated and often Mermaid Beach has areas of exposed sand too. Weekends are obviously a lot busier than week days.
-Beautiful architecture - especially towards the "west" area (around Earls Avenue, Clifton Crescent, The Grand, Castle Hill Avenue, Grimston Gardens). NB don't confuse this with "folkestone west" station area (although there are some lovely buildings around there too).
-Plenty of artwork around town. Folkestone Triennial art festival takes place every 3 years (the last one was 2017) and brings a lot of visitors into town for the 2 months it is on. Work is on show from plenty of well known artists like Tracey Emin (a piece of hers remains in the Folkestone Central station platform), David Shrigley (along the Leas), Yoko Ono, Anthony Gormley etc - some of it is in town for the triennial only but quite a lot stays, so you'll find lots of interesting art around. There is also a Folkestone Fringe. Plus Art Car Boot Fair also visits Folkestone, with the last event in 2017 too.
- The Creative Quarter, Creative Foundation + regenerative energy: The Creative Foundation works really hard to provide support to creatives and creative businesses in this town. Accommodation, retail premises etc are available (albeit demand is high) at rents that seem favourable compared to market rates. In addition, the Foundation provides a number of initiatives and events which help to promote the businesses and individuals (such as the annual Open Quarter) and helps with the cohesion of the community within their properties. These guys work really hard to try to help the town grow.
- Sandgate & Hythe - both great to visit. Sandgate is a lovely place to walk to especially along the beach/promenade. There are some beautiful houses overlooking the sea plus generally I find the walk to be pretty quiet. It is very calming. There are a number of cafes and antique shops in Sandgate too.
- Eurostar/Eurotunnel - so close to France! You can catch the Eurostar at Ashford, or drive through the Channel Tunnel in Folkestone.
What are the downsides?
- In London, convenience is everywhere...tubes every few minutes, night buses, shops open long hours/around the clock. Folkestone is very different. This took a little time to adjust to, but was not exactly a hardship! The one direct HS1 train per hour from Folkestone to London obviously requires some organisation and wasted time if you are meeting people (I spend much more time waiting at train stations than I used to, and in London I find 1 direct train an hour means I am quite strict with deadlines etc and plans etc, which can be something Londoners are less used to). Supermarkets are closed by 4pm on a Sunday and quite a few restaurants stop serving relatively early, so check before visiting.
-limited big shopping opportunities - but who needs that now with the internet, plus Westfield Stratford within easy reach on the HS1, and of course, the quirky and one off shops you can find in Folkestone (esp. in the Creative Quarter)? The main shopping street/high street in Folkestone is Sandgate Road. There are a few empty shops around but it has the key things you need and, importantly, a large Wilkos. I love Wilkos! Not far out of town (I walk there from home sometimes) is Park Farm Industrial Estate with a large Sainsbury's, Pets At Home, B&M, Home Bargains, Bunnings, McDonalds and Screwfix so the essentials are covered.
- it is not necessarily that easy to reach other places off the HS1 via public transport. I don't drive, so this is my own fault and easy to remedy if i actually bothered to learn. E.G. Brighton, whilst it feels relatively close geographically, is a long trip on the trains. Folkestone is obviously far less accessible than London was, and airports are going to be trickier for me than they were when I lived in London. That said, a drive to Gatwick from Folkestone is not too bad at all and easily comparable in time to the tube+train time I used to take when living in East London. Again, comparing Folkestone to London in terms of connectivity is obviously going to come out as inferior. as you would expect when comparing any town with a capital city.
- it is a pretty small town, so if you've lived in a city for a while where it is easier to be anonymous it can be a bit of an adjustment (says the person with neon hair....hardly able to hide...). On the plus side you will almost certainly always see someone you know when you pop to the shops!
- from a personal perspective, a lot of my artwork is shown in London but the cost of me having fragile work moved up and around to shows, going to the show myself, bringing stuff back....it adds up into a few hundred per show sometimes and often means taking losses on show participation or making tiny profits once all is said and done. It has made me have to think more in monetary terms about the shows I do and has made it harder for me. However, much of this is due to personal circumstance and the specific work I do - I don't drive and make a very niche art product that can't be posted/couriered etc (other than bespoke courier), so this is less likely to be relevant to many other people considering moving. In general, I think the area is extremely supportive to those in creative industries so my experience with the logistics of the neon work is not the norm and also not unexpected.
-limited employment opportunities (depending upon what your sector is, obviously). Folkestone is a small town, with a population of around 45,000 I think.
- it is not an all night party town like East London/Brighton (and probably parts of Margate). To me that was generally a positive though as I am getting on a bit now...
- If you are commuting to London, there can sometimes be train delays etc, and always factor in your extra times at either side - the getting to the station, getting to the tube after getting off the train etc. It does add up and personally I found it a bit draining, more than expected (but then I had been spoiled for many years with no tube or train commuting to work). Which leads me to....
How do I find commuting to London?
- when I first moved down in mid 2016, I was still working a part time job in Canary Wharf. Although it was only 3 days per week, it made sense to have a monthly high speed ticket with underground travelcard. Back then this was around £680 a month, which is a lot of cash and given I was not going up every day was quite a lot per trip (but less than the equivalent of buying a peak return ticket on each of those days). The HS1 train provider is South Eastern Trains (i.e. not Southern, on which all the Brighton problems occured).
-I found the HS1 to be pretty good, the trains are comfortable with plug sockets for phone charging. I did experience a few delays though. Having walked or cycled to work in London for about 9 years (usually 2-3+ miles each way) it was a bit of a shock to the system to be on a train, then walking through Westfield (changing from Stratford International to Stratford tube), then sitting on the packed Jubilee line. When I did my long walks to and from work in London the exercise did wonders for my energy levels by the time I arrived in the office. I found sitting on a train (esp if delayed), tube and leaving the office at 6pm to get to my train in time (I rarely ever left the office at that time in the years before that!) took away quite a bit of my energy and took away the extra hours I used to sit at my desk in an evening (I couldn't do that stuff on the train or when back home) and I was not happy being less productive than I had always been (which was very productive tbh!). That was a very relevant experience for me so I wanted to include it here.
- I now go to London 1-2 x per week for art related visits. I usually get the 1st off peak direct high speed train at 10am, or get the next direct one at 11am. The return ticket is about £31, and this gets reduced to about £22 via the use of a Network Railcard. This is a brilliant discount card which costs £30 per year and saves 1/3 on off peak train travel (so the first direct HS1 train it is valid on from Folkestone is the 10am). This makes return trips to London much more affordable. It can mean that the 10am train to St Pancras is busy - sometimes there are not any seats at Folkestone West. A lot of people tend to get on at Folkestone Central and I always do get a seat at Folkestone Central. The 11am is less busy but can still get pretty busy. Coming home, I try to avoid 4.44-6.44pm trains from Stratford as these are busy (they often involve standing part of the way home). I enjoy this trip once or twice per week but am always very happy to come back to the more relaxed pace and clean air of Folkestone.
It really all depends on what you are used to, the type of job you do and the hours you work I think. There are lots of people down here who commute to London Monday to Friday and it is a much better commute than some of the other seaside alternatives offered, plus to return home to the sea is lovely. If i had needed to keep doing my corporate job (if i had a big mortgage and a family to support) I would have carried on no problem.
If planning a one day visit, what are the must-sees?
[tbc - but see my list of favourite items above. I also wrote a blog post last year covering a few of my favourite venues, and need to update that too as new places have popped up and I have discovered other gems!]
I read that some parts of Folkestone are dodgy e.g. "you wouldn't want to get out of a car there"
My response to this is...eh?! I read this on a forum recently and was a bit surprised. Folkestone has its more affluent areas and more deprived areas, pretty much like many places in the UK. I have personally never felt unsafe and have met a lot of people from varying backgrounds. There are some areas around the East of Folkestone which are more deprived, but to me that is no different to other areas I have previously lived in. There are also some gorgeous areas around the East (I love Wear Bay Road). I have lived in a range of places before during my life. I was brought up in a very working class town in the Midlands, Bloxwich, just north of Walsall. These were pretty deprived areas and we were by no means well off at all. I went to university in Cambridge, surrounded by affluence and beauty, a big contrast to life in the 18 years before that. I did a summer internship one year in Weybridge, Surrey, a lovely area. In London I lived in a variety of places within zones 1 and 2 including Soho, Stratford (around 2004, back when it was zone 3 and way before the Olympic regeneration), a lot of time around SE1/Borough and then had a flat just around the corner from Tower Bridge, then I lived for a few years just off Hackney Road, near Columbia Road and Bethnal Green Road. I worked most of my time either on Fleet Street, Tower Hill or in Canary Wharf. These areas all have big variations in affluence. Folkestone is just like other areas - a mixture - and certainly feels no less safe to me than East London. Folkestone is less of a "bubble" than London is and certainly better for it.
Having been in Folkestone for 2 years, what are my views now on the move, any regrets etc?
I do not regret moving to Folkestone. I love it, especially in the summer and it really is blissful when sat on the beach in the good weather - honestly feels like being on holiday where I live.
That said, as I have noted, I have found some challenges but these are related entirely to the nature of the art work I do (i doubt they would be the same for other artists working in a less fragile medium) and the difficulties of trying to maintain an artwork presence in London without a car (i// know, LEARN TO DRIVE!!!) whilst also running a gallery (I can't be working in my shop and at art exhibitions at the same time, so this is something I need to improve) and moreover, the complete change in my lifestyle from a well paid part time corporate job (that also gave me a lot of self worth in terms of expertise and achievement) to a very sporadic and low income that is a fraction of what I used to earn - none of that is to do with Folkestone the place or the people though. Also, I moved on my own - not with family or a partner - and so that brings its own challenges (despite my protestations of independence!) and I do of course miss seeing a lot of my friends in London (though popping up and seeing them would be much easier if i wasn't working every weekend, so again it is my personal work circumstances that cause this).
It remains to be seen how Brexit impacts the town, given proximity to Dover.
Dogs: there are lots of ace places to exercise dogs and many people have dogs down here!
Kids: I don't have any children but understand that there are good schools around, including grammar options.