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Revived Oxford Street now heartbeat of Whitstable

By Jodie Nesling

Cafe culture is flourishing in a once neglected part of Whitstable as late-night bistros, galleries and cafes open their doors in Oxford Street.

Once regarded as Harbour Street’s poorer relation, the self-coined “Vintage Quarter” is enjoying a creative shift towards live music, art and late-night bars.

Empty shops, once commonplace, are being filled with vintage clothing stores and soon-to-be-opened independents celebrating the town’s burgeoning art scene.

David Palmer outside his new venture
David Palmer outside his new venture

Gallery 64a is hosting its first exhibition, the aptly named Second Chances. Owner Rob Mumby snapped up the space after coming across it on a walk home.

He said: “It was a knee-jerk reaction, I saw an advert in the window and the next day had taken over the lease for a year.”

The 48-year-old fell in love with the charms of the area after a holiday six years ago and recognised the potential of Oxford Street.

“It has a different character to the Harbour and the High Street. The space at the front is an ideal gallery space.”

The architect hopes this is the beginning of further collaborations with east Kent’s talented artists.

Further along, you’ll find Chappell Contemporary Art Gallery. Opened in 2015, founder Paula Chappell says the street has transformed in the recent months, attracting locals and tourists alike.

Baker Geoff Champs has transformed his business
Baker Geoff Champs has transformed his business

“I have lived in the area for eight years and previously managed Lilford Gallery in Canterbury.

“I wanted to bring international artists’ work here. There was definitely a gap in the market,” she said. The 35-year-old sells pieces from notable artists such as Peter Blake.

The galleries are complimented by diverse and exciting cafes and restaurants, while the Umbrella Centre has become a popular venue for events both inside and out on the forecourt.

The old and the new mingle harmoniously and there was a distinct feeling of a proper business community bonding together in May when trouble broke out one Monday evening.

A man went on the rampage almost exclusively in Oxford Street, smashing front windows with a shovel.

Geoff Champs, of Champseys, said at the time: “I must say that the response in the evening was brilliant. Everyone who was around did their bit.”

Champseys is a street stalwart and award-winning bakery but has reinvented itself and five months ago it started serving a range of ales and wines to compliment its menu.

Oxford Street is enjoying a revival
Oxford Street is enjoying a revival

Shepherd Neame spotted the potential of the East Kent Hotel and invested £275,000, revitalising the once run-down boozer when everyone thought its days as a pub were numbered.

A lunch menu and traditional ales are a mainstay of the brewery but a new PA system shows commitment to preserve the pub’s live music credentials and cultivate a thriving music scene.

Coffee and cake shop Burgate, which has a flagship cafe in Canterbury, opened last November, and celebrated vegan aficionados Potato Tomato, who have been operating from one of the huts in the harbour now also have a permanent home in Oxford Street. Restaurant and ale house Novelist is also set to open.

Late-night cafe culture has also extended to social enterprise schemes with not-for-profit gallery The Fishslab opening and the launch of an exciting new ice cream parlour and vegetarian cafe, Revival, imminent.

The brainchild of Mind charity boss David Palmer, the cafe will open at 3pm and remain open into the evening providing a stepping stone for people with ill mental health who are keen to gain work experience.

Robert Mumby in his new gallery
Robert Mumby in his new gallery

He said: “The Umbrella Centre does a fantastic job and offers great services so we are going to open later and offer employability opportunities where there is a real need. We have a branch in Bromley which has done brilliantly and is top on Trip Advisor.

“The plan is to compliment other places and to create a space for teenagers to come to. We will source our food locally including from Herbacious next door, and our ice creams will have no e-numbers.”

The parlour will hope to catch tourists on their way to and from the beach but they think most of their custom will come from the local area.

The retro Sixties bar will, much like its sister cafe in Bromley, also have also have a record player.

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