As the recent heatwave simmered on, tempura oysters were being washed down with chilled rosé on the beachfront tables at Little Rock, an offshoot of Folkestone’s Michelin starred Rocksalt restaurant. Looking from the shipping container that houses it past a handful of palm trees down the long shingle beach, a huge crane punctuated the clear blue sky above the bright white curves of the town’s biggest new development.
The Folkestone Harbour and Seafront Development Company is hoping to woo a wave of home-buyers to the Kent Channel town’s seafront, with the first phase of 1,000 new homes planned along the beach. The seaside resort and port, in the same vein as Margate and Hastings, has been trying to rebrand itself as a thriving arts centre. In its narrow cobbled Old High Street – once Charles Dickens’s favourite – boarded-up shops have been replaced with a Creative Quarter full of colourfully painted galleries, studios and retailers.
The area around the harbour, including the Harbour Arm, has also emerged from decades of decline and neglect to offer food pop-ups, spruced-up walkways and even a champagne bar at its lighthouse. The decommissioned Victorian Folkestone Harbour train station and tracks are now a New York ‘High Line’ style stretch of milling people and musicians; the Goods Yard has become a hub of container eateries with a big TV screen showing sporting events; and the world’s first purpose-built multi-storey skatepark, F51, opened last year.
Sir Roger De Haan, non-executive chairman of Saga Group, the town’s principal employer, heads up the development company that has been behind all of this. He grew up in the town, where his parents ran a hotel, and is fiercely passionate about securing its future by injecting a mix of new creative, sporting and education facilities – plus those 1,000 homes.