By Marcus Leach
When starting a new business most people have a tendency to think that, in order for it to be accepted and successful, it needs to be based in London. After all, London is 'the place to be' these days isn't it, or at least that's what Londoners will have you believe. However, there are other locations in the UK that are equal to, if not better than London for basing your new business. Folkestone in East Kent being a prime example.
To a large degree one can understand people's reasons for believing they have to be in London, especially if their business happens to be in either the technology or creative industries. The emergence of 'Silicon Roundabout' (for tech companies) and Shoreditch (for creative businesses) has created hotbeds for businesses in these sectors, attracting business in their dozens. However, said locations come at a cost, and it isn't cheap. So what are the alternatives?
East Kent has recently been awarded £35 million by central government as part of its Regional Growth Fund, to be distributed in the form of interest free loans, and as such the region provides unrivalled economic incentives for fast-growth creative and digital industries. At the heart of it all is Folkestone, and more specifically its Creative Quarter; a melting pot of creative businesses that are at the heart of all that is good about the area, and the driving force aiming to ensure Folkestone becomes a mainstay on the entrepreneurial map.
What makes the Creative Quarter even more interesting is that it is not fighting the battle to become an established creative hub, recognised outside of its own sphere, alone. The Creative Foundation, an arts regeneration charity based in Folkestone and run by the affable Alistair Upton, is tasked with managing the project which is looking to restore the area’s vitality by encouraging creative enterprise. And what a job they are doing. All one needs do is take a walk around the idyllic cobbled streets of the Creative Quarter and pop in to any one of the numerous businesses to hear from the horse’s mouth just how this entrepreneurial revolution is taking off.
The message is the same from everyone. Firstly, and most importantly, everyone is in full support of the work that the Creative Foundation is doing; secondly the rental and running costs are greatly reduced from those seen in London; and finally, but by no means least, there is a real sense of 'business community' in the area, ensuring that everyone is a part of the movement. There are no ships passing in the night here, instead businesses interact regularly, which can only be for the greater good.
One final advantage to consider, and it is a point not lost on those working in the Quarter, is that London, where many of the businesses have clients, is less than an hour away on the train. The HS1 rail link has opened the doors to Folkestone like never before. Suddenly the long-term regeneration, that will look to take the sleepy seaside town into a thriving hub of entrepreneurial activity, takes on a sense of reality.
"We are just getting to that tipping point, where we have enough businesses established to make this a reality," explained Upton. "What Folkestone represents is incredible value for money and a sense of community that can become lost in big cities. We are looking at long-term regeneration, not just a quick fix, and to show that there is life for businesses outside of London, especially those in the creative sector."
The work being done has not gone unnoticed either, Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe and Member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, is actively supporting the developments, and is as keen as anybody in the region to see this project become a success. It is clear that those involved are serious about their goals, and with the same approach from the business world outside of Folkestone, there is no reason these goals can't be achieved and for Folkestone to become a serious alternative to London.
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