Monday, 29 November 2010

Santa in the Harbour

Very many thanks to all who supported the Whitstable Harbour Christmas Market, last Saturday and Sunday and helped keep Christmas local.

Nearly 200 children visited Santa in his grotto over the week-end after his spectacular arrival from Lapland. Santa arrived at Whitstable Harbour Village in his own sailing boat hauled by a special detachment of the Whitstable Sea Scouts.

The Big Tree Cider Company kept the Kentish mulled cider flowing as visitors braved icy temperatures to enjoy fabulous music from local musicians. The Whitstable Choral Society, Malcolm J Holland and the sensational Rachael Gerrard performed on Saturday. Many of the songs were signed for the deaf, thanks to the services of Helen James.

Shoppers enjoyed Christmas food from Cloudberry Cafe, the Market Grill and Cocoa and Spice and a range of gifts from local independent traders.

Sunday saw Whitstable Whistlefish add some festive songs to the atmosphere before local favourite, Myles the Magic Wizard entertained children with his jokes and tricks.

Many thanks also to the Whitstable and District Chamber of Commerce for lending their information hut for the indoor gift market and to the Whistable and Herne Bay Lions Club for arranging the special visit of Santa Claus.

It was a lovely community Christmas event offering an alternative to Christmas shopping in air- conditioned shopping malls full of corporate chain stores.

It also raised money for local good causes.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Terrified in the Harbour

It's not every day that you see a load of witches, several ghosts, Frankenstein's monster, a werewolf and two vampires in a working harbour but that's why Whitstable Harbour is a little different.

For the Harbour Halloween Fun Day, nearly 60 children entered the annual fancy dress parade organised by village traders, Lynn Bolton and Keith Webber and some were as young as two years old.
However, cynical you might be about Halloween as a commercial American import, it was a lovely sight to see all those children dressed up and having fun.

Thanks also to Uncle Myles the Magic Wizard for providing some excellent entertainment and all the harbour village traders for being even more scary than usual.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Head in the Clouds in the Harbour

Number 13 might be unlucky for some but that doesn’t apply to Lynn Bolton, the founder of Head in the Clouds, who is busier than ever with a new range of posh puddings as the winter approaches down at Whitstable Harbour.

Lynn has been trading from her fisherman’s hut (Number 13) in the harbour village since July 2009 and her award winning boutique meringue business has grown from strength to strength since then. Lynn now supplies some of the top retailers in the country including Selfridges.

If your childhood memory of a meringue is a rather brittle and dusty white container for tinned fruit, then think again. Lynn’s meringues are all hand made with free range egg whites from Monkshill Farm between Whitstable and Faversham using a secret family recipe.

No wonder they have been sampled by the Royal Household but Lynn is sworn to secrecy about the details.

The first thing to say about Lynn’s meringues is that they look sensational. They are beautifully presented with stylish packaging but the taste is even better. The meringues are sweet and crusty with a soft sticky interior which is just yummy.

There are some brilliant new ranges being lined up for Christmas including a fat vanilla snowman with a fondant icing scarf, peppermint flavoured Christmas trees and my personal favourite; the reindeer cup-cake meringue.

The fisherman’s hut in Whitstable Harbour Village gives Lynn a chance to meet local people and get customer feedback every week-end. She has also managed to win long term customers from the people she has met in the harbour.

“I am now supplying a wonderful cafe and bakery in Leighton Buzzard run by South African Chris and his French wife Leatitia who I met in the harbour” explains Lynn.

Head in the Clouds is open 10am-4pm every week-end at the Whitstable Harbour Village until Christmas and you can also see their new winter range at

Friday, 1 October 2010

Whitstable not a Clone Town...yet

Great news last month when Whitstable made the pages of the national press for being featured in the New Economic Foundation (nef) Report into so called Clone Towns. The nef report found that Whitstable was the most diverse town in its entire survey with an impressive 92.1 on the diversity scale.

The nef report, Re-imagining the High Street: Escape from Clone Town Britain, also brands the multiple chain outlets as “fair weather friends” who have either abandoned the high streets entirely or given up so-called secondary locations.

The report is a remarkable achievement for Whitstable and offers a fabulous opportunity for the town. Whitstable could establish an international reputation as a vibrant local business champion with encouragement for local independent retailers, restaurants and other businesses in the town.

The nef survey also offered welcome encouragement for those who try and help Whitstable be a diverse and locally owned business environment. The local business clubs, Whitstable and District Chamber of Commerce, Made in Whitstable, the local farmers market, the folks from Transition Town Whitstable and the Keep Whitstable Different Campaign. Not to mention the actual business owners themselves who struggle against government interference, red tape and increasing costs on a daily basis to keep their businesses going and keep Whitstable different.

Ironically, the report came out just a few days after it was reported that the Bingo Hall in Oxford Street is to be turned into another one of Wetherspoon’s 780 cheap boozing venues across the UK. The “Yob and Vomit” as it has already been tagged by some locals will be one of the first businesses seen by visitors to Whitstable. Visitors eager to enjoy the town’s diversity and the locally owned independents shops and businesses will be sorely disappointed.

Whitstable Harbour could be ideally placed to be the driving force of Whitstable’s international reputation as a diverse and locally owned shopping, eating and leisure destination. The businesses in the harbour are all locally owned and the harbour itself represents the town’s rich maritime heritage based on a reputation for unique locally sourced food - Oysters. Isn’t this a unique and gold plated opportunity for the harbour to benefit the whole community?

Just imagine the national headlines: Whitstable vows never to be a clone town. In a bold new strategy announced today Whitstable became the first town in the UK to commit itself to supporting locally owned business and local produce and saying” no” to multiple retail chains. The town’s famous harbour is to be the centre of a new local business hub and independent local retailers in the town and those offering local produce will be offered business rates holidays to allow them to flourish.

Unfortunately, the Harbour Board is too busy tearing itself to pieces in an internal feud about how best to run the harbour, to do anything constructive or pro-active. Not that constructive or pro-active were terms readily associated with the Board at the best of times but here was an opportunity to put a modern and coherent management system in place for the Harbour just when it was needed. Instead Canterbury City Council seems to have succeeded to taking something recognised as pretty ineffective and actually make it worse.

Its critics may accuse the Harbour Board of producing little more than hot air or only offering a talking shop for retired people but you can’t help thinking that a great opportunity to put a modern coherent system in place and do something really constructive for Whitstable has been lost.

In a few years time when Whitstable eventually becomes another depressing clone town full of empty shops, charity outlets and the odd multiple chain of estate agents, we may look back and remember those national headlines and wish we had done something constructive rather than let such opportunity slip past.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Visit Whitstable?

The transformation of Whitstable from a quirky and close knit coastal community to a mainstream visitor and second home destination has been more noticeable than ever this summer.
Never have more visitors been seen ambling aimlessly down the middle of the road or driving their precious darlings at high speed to their next wholesome educational activity in massive gleaming SUV's.

Tatty old beach huts become designer statements. More houses become holiday cottages or second homes. More litter is dropped. Residents can feel increasingly like animatronics dummy's at Disneyworld- being pointed at and asked the way to the nearest public toilet.
I have not yet seen any offical statistics but the EPICentre food and drink event on the opening week-end of the Oyster Festival was the most crowded I have ever seen the harbour.
For the first time, temporary loos had to be installed and the excellent SERCO rubbish team were working like demons to keep everything looking clean and tidy.
Most people who live and work in the town can see that tourism is having a massive impact. In many ways this can be positive. It allows us all to enjoy fabulous pubs and restaurants. It offers an opportunity for locally owned business to benefit financially from the towns increasing popularity as a visitor destination. The Harbour Village is supporting the WHIT card scheme so that local people are encouraged to use their local traders and local services all year around.
But tourism and leisure also creates a massive strain on the towns infrastructure at week-ends and in the summer months. This must be planned and managed effectively by local government even in tough economic times. Its not good enough just to leave it to local business to sort out.
Is this change being managed at all at the moment? What investment is planned in tourism infrastructure? Does anyone care what the impact of tourism will be on Whitstable in ten years time? Does anyone have a strategy for sustainable tourism so that the community benefits directly from visitor spend?
Somehow I doubt it..

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The village..coming to a town near you?

We are all stuck in a sort of strange Limbo Land down at Whitstable Harbour and its not just festival fever.

It’s like Waiting for Godot or Waiting for Tesco is probably nearer to the truth.

We can’t expand, improve or invest in the village while we wait along with everyone else for the “comprehensive re-development” of the South Quay. If you thought this was a dead idea think again all harbour lovers- it is alive and well but just sleeping gently over at military Road in Canterbury.

Options need to be kept open by our dear friends at the council. That big deal could be just around the corner.

So if we can't get on with things, we are going to look elsewhere.

We now have 23 local businesses earning their living from the village, most operating from their own fisherman’s huts which I still think is quite a cool idea first suggested by Mark and Ann Pardoe.

Visitors to the town and locals can spend their money with people who live and work in the local community. It acts (partly) as a showcase for local arts and crafts. It attracts visitors to the town and adds some life to what was an ugly section of the harbour. It now generates over £¼ million every year for the local economy and of course, pays rent to the harbour and rates to the council.

There is not a big downside that I can think of.

The only problem is that the village is full and we would like to expand and improve. But all that’s on offer is what is effectively a six month lease. Just in case that big money development is just around the corner the council can kick our little huts out, and move Mr Tesco in.

Doesn’t make you feel all that welcome to be honest.

So if we can’t expand in our own home harbour, we are going to look at taking the harbour village idea to another Kentish seaside town near you. Explore Kent’s creative coast and the pleasures of Margate, Ramsgate, Deal, Sandwich or Broadstairs?

Any Kentish town out there like their own village?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Oyster Festival Fever

The Whitstable Oyster Festival is about to commence this week-end and you can already feel the frenzied excitement reaching boiling point across the town.

Festival fever grips the people of Whitstable in different ways of course but for so many it is an opportunity to wear pink and explore their feminine side.

Indeed many people in Whitstable don't need a festival about a shellfish as an excuse to dress up in strange clothes and exhibit themselves in public places, most notably in Whitstable Harbour.

You might think that a town famous for fishing and commercial diving might have a gruff and macho edge to it but you could not be more wrong. For every gravelly voiced oystermen has his camp side and the festival is the time to celebrate it in public. So join the party...

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Saturday, 10 July 2010

Hot Hot Harbour

It's over 30 degrees C and the harbour is hotting up this summer with lots of interesting news and great music from Whitstable's own radio station, Red Sands Radio on 87.7 FM.

Malcolm is setting a new trend in pink as harbour men explore their feminine side and visitors treat their sunstroke with chilled juices and smoothies from the Whitstable Juice Company and cold strawberry tartlettes from Cocoa and Spice.

Rob Morris and Steve Randall at the new Harbour Smiths have made a strong start with their stunning range of hand crafted silver jewellery. Romney Marsh Arts and Craft Gallery have a leading ceramic artist on hand for the next few weeks. Enmanual Moldonado (right) is from Nicaragua and has been involved in ceramic arts for over 15 years. Meet him and check out his amazing work in Hut 9.

Frances at the Craft and Teddy Hut is now stocking the toys from local children's author Emma Thomson. Each special toy animal has a secret associated with the corresponding book.

So tune in to Red Sands Radio, get down the harbour and make the most of the summer. It won't last forever.
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Monday, 14 June 2010

The Arty Village

The famous Whitstable Biennale starts on Saturday, offering two weeks packed with weird arty installations and unexpected creativity. Criticised by some for being too elitist, the Biennale is always well organised, highly inventive and brings visitors to the town outside the peak summer holiday season.

Last Bienalle, Malcolm's hut was covered with a huge knitted tea cosy. This time Keith's hut (Hut 14) will be the subject of an art installation called "The ontological possibility of Utopia"by Jack Brindley, David Spraggs and Charles Brown.

The Village celebration of all things arty started early when our longest serving resident artist, Michael Richardson (Hut 5) was selected for the Royal Academy of Arts, Summer Exhibition. This is a huge accolade as this year only a few hundred selections were made from over 11,000 entries.

It means Michaels work will hang alongside the likes of Tracy Emin, Antoni Tapies and Gillian Ayres and he is likely to be (even more) coveted by some of the leading galleries.

Michael spent some time as a sailmaker and yacht designer, so marine themes are his favourite but his sumbission for the RA was actually painted from a freezing snowy ditch near Goudhurst in the middle of winter.

This summer the arty village also offers Juanita Newton, Nina Harris, Printerior Design plus the exquisite silver creations from the new Harbour Smiths.

So this Biennale check out the art scene at the arty and creative Whitstable Harbour Village.

Monday, 31 May 2010

New traders for Summer 2010 at the Village

It is hard to believe that it is now the fourth summer for Whitstable Harbour Village.

After modest beginnings where the market resembled a refugee camp on the quay-side, we are now up to 20 smart fisherman's huts. Three new huts have opened this year, with three new traders on show for summer 2010 and one more to arrive soon.

In those four years we have been victimised, patronised, marginalised and even pedestrianised but we carry on regardless flying the flag and trying to help keep our local harbour about local people.

No subsidies, no EU grants, no arts council hand outs and no council rent or rates concessions by the way.

About eight of our original traders (artists, photographers, food producers and crafts people) have now moved on to bigger and better things setting up retail premises or galleries in local towns and contributing more to the local economy. The village is finally earning some modest recognition as an incubator for fledgling local business that can start up without taking huge risks or making massive investments.

So welcome to Peter and Jessica at Cocoa and Spice the artisan patissiere. Their home-made cakes, tartes, cheesecake and chocolate mousse are now firmly established as part of my calorie out of control diet. Less guilt is inflicted by the new Whitstable Juice Company who offer juices and wonderful smoothies from locally sourced fruits with special kiddy's juices to keep the young ones in good health. The Juice Company is partly owned by Mark at Granny Smith's green-grocers in the High Street making our third high street retailer to open an outlet in the village.

And more is coming soon including Whitstable's own silversmiths...