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North Kent creative industries set to benefit from £6.5m programme to kickstart the economy

The North Kent coastline is set to receive a £6.5million facelift as part of a creative arts programme designed to boost the region's tourism prospects.

Funding of the Creative Estuary project will contribute to the development of the Thames Estuary as Europe's largest creative corridor – encompassing Dartford, Gravesham and Medway.

The programme will identify and repurpose disused spaces
The programme will identify and repurpose disused spaces

The £6.5m investment will look to transform and repurpose disused areas along the North Kent and South Essex coasts, support more than 400 new jobs and deliver new skills, qualifications and apprenticeships for 300 people.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the creative sector was the UK’s fastest growing sector.

Along the Thames Estuary, which stretches from Southend to Margate, there are 16,000 creative businesses employing around 46,000 people in a variety of fields, ranging from film and TV, radio to gaming and performing and visual arts.

But since lockdown the arts and cultural spheres has suffered under the weight of long term closures and uncertainty surrounding their futures.

It is hoped the Creative Estuary programme will help kickstart the local economy and support the region's thriving cultural industries outside of the capital.

Chatham's Historical Dockside has been identified as an area for regeneration Photo: Aerial Reconnaissance Co
Chatham's Historical Dockside has been identified as an area for regeneration Photo: Aerial Reconnaissance Co

Part of this includes identifying currently underused or vacant buildings and spaces, with a view to redeveloping them for creative use.

Pilot projects include the Docking Station, which is transforming the Grade II-listed former Police Section House in Chatham’s Historic Dockyard into a multi-use cultural and creative space.

Chair of Creative Estuary, Sarah Dance, said: “Our aim is to use culture as the catalyst for growth in this unique part of the country.

"The Thames Estuary can offer much-needed space for expanding creative businesses, and provide the scale of services, skills and infrastructure sought by both national organisations and international creative producers."

She added: “Creative Estuary wants to attract inward investment by telling a new story about the Estuary and to empower creative individuals and firms to realise their potential.”

Project leaders are also hoping to inspire the next generation through its Re:Generation 2031 scheme, which will provide mentoring, support, finance and training for young people.

The Maunsell Forts near Whitstable have long been earmarked for transformation
The Maunsell Forts near Whitstable have long been earmarked for transformation

Creative Estuary director Emma Wilcox said: “I want Creative Estuary to be a catalyst for the creative and economic evolution of this unique region, helping to unlock its massive potential both as an international production hub and as a collaborative, inspirational working space for a new generation of creative talent.”

Creative Estuary has also teamed up with partners at the University of Kent to draw on research interests and share knowledge of the latest developments.

Last year the university received a share of £4.3m from the government's cultural development fund aimed at helping drive economic growth through investment in culture, heritage and the creative industries in the Thames Estuary corridor.

It forms part of the government-backed Thames Estuary Production Corridor project and builds upon investment in the Estuary over the past decade of more than £150 million, jointly by government and industry, to help businesses thrive.

Professor Karen Cox, vice-chancellor and president at the University of Kent said: “Creative Estuary reflects our commitment as a Civic University to work in partnership with organisations in Kent and Medway and support activity which brings resources into the region, enables economic growth and contributes to long term sustainability and quality of life in Kent.”

The investment will be used to deliver Estuary 2020, an international arts festival reaching audiences in the area and across the world.

Lockdown meant the month-long curated arts programme had to be shelved but project leaders have announced it has now been rescheduled to take place next spring.

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