Opinion with Alice Olivia Scarlett: People Dem Collective is a black and white issue

Alice Olivia Scarlett is a freelance writer and the Fiction Editor for Thanet Writers. She writes stories, articles, and occasional bad poetry. She lives in Thanet with the seagulls and parakeets. 

This month we heard the news of plans to turn the old Primark building on Margate seafront  into a cultural centre. I’ve seen a lot of reactions to this news, and the primary one seems to be confusion about what a centre like this will achieve, who’s setting it up, and why does it exist. In short, what’s the point of it?

The official answer is that People Dem Collective is a community organisation that campaigns for racial equality. The People Dem Collective Cultural Centre will provide a space for people to learn about the cultural experiences of those communities who are often seen as “other” – this includes British Black and Brown people as well as Roma/Travellers. There will also be programs aimed at young people, and the LGBTQIA+ and neuro-diverse communities. The centre will focus on art, heritage, identity, food, music; there will be a family-friendly restaurant, a performance space, a radio station and podcasting suite, a play area for children.

I think some of the resistance to the centre that I’ve witnessed comes a lack of understanding about what its presence really means. That’s understandable – “cultural centre” isn’t an everyday phrase and I’ve never visited one in my life. But I am really excited for this new centre.

It can feel disconcerting when we see something clearly labelled as belonging to a group we’re not a part of. Recently there was an exhibition at the Turner that I didn’t go to because it was about art made by people in prison. Having never been to prison and with no desire to change that, I couldn’t see how the art would interest me. Another exhibition – one that I actually did go to – had a section about living in Ireland during the 1970s, and, as a painfully English millennial, I was very tempted to skip that room. This is an understandable reaction. I like personally relating to things, I like seeing myself reflected in the media I consume, I like seeing something and feeling that immediate, intimate kick of kinship as I recognise myself and my own experiences.

However I am just one person in an immeasurable glittering universe full of individuals with a length and breadth of experiences incomparable to mine. And often recognising that is disconcerting. I like seeing the familiar and I like seeing what I know. Recognising other people’s experiences is often uncomfortable and disturbing, and sometimes it makes me realise things about myself that I wasn’t expecting. But what a wonderful thing it is to remind ourselves of the infinite variety of the human experience. It’s not always comfortable, but learning new things rarely is.

The act of labelling sometimes feels hostile and aggressive, a statement that only the select few are allowed into this space. But if you see a space designed to uplift the communities who are often left behind, a space whose goal is to give a platform to the voices who are often ignored, I think you’re rather missing the point. There are already so many institutions where white British culture is celebrated and showcased (think about how many white portraits you see in the National Gallery, for example), and the centre is an addition to what’s already there, not taking away anything from anyone else.

It’s intimidating to admit you don’t know much about a subject, especially in the cancel culture of today where it can feel like any genuine question you might have about a new issue is going to get shot down. It can be hard to educate yourself on these issues in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re inviting criticism, and it’s impossible to do that in the comments of a Facebook post. My hope is that the centre will provide an answer to that. Its goal is to bring local people together and start a discussion about these issues. It is designed to be a place of inclusivity and education, and above all a celebration of those voices and cultures that are often overlooked.

The People Dem Collective Cultural Centre is a place for cultures and individuals to come together, creating a whole new space within the Thanet community for acceptance and fellowship. Maybe being relentlessly pummelled by 2020 has made me sentimental, but I can’t see how a space designed to further our understanding of our fellow humans can be a bad thing.

People Dem Collective cultural centre plans for former Primark building among bids to Margate Town Deal Board

20 Comments

    • I think the idea is to just let the town totally die-aside from the arty bit with the Turner Centre & surrounding. It is far more important to have far-left kudos & virtue signal/play along with the Oppression Olympics bandwagon nowadays-here you have every group of ‘victims’ under one roof & white heterosexuals who have caused all the problems in the world are not welcome.

      To have shops it will cost money, if you have a worthy social cause then you can get endless grants for it, along with the crowdfunding & celebrity donations/PR, you don’t have to worry about dropping rents etc.

  1. I should add, I like very much what Alice does to encourage local writers, and I’ve often read her reviews. It’s just that a big building in such a prime position should be used for something that will increase footfall and help other struggling businesses.

  2. Good idea to have a diverse high street, a place to talk meet and socialise . The high street must adapt . Next door at 51 high street we have introduced a new concept, a food club which is very popular. So I welcome new projects.

  3. No, the problem is not about something we aren’t part of. The problem is this group have made it clear in their statements that we aren’t welcome, are seen as privileged oppressors & our only recourse is to be on our knees saying sorry, while doing a black panther salute-which is strange considering white & not very wealthy people are the overwhelming majority in Thanet-assuming this is who this project is supposed to be aimed at of course & not the London art crowd like the Turner Centre.

    Not sure how you bring people together when you paint an us & them scenario & the people you are railing against make up most of that. We are all part of the same race-the human race & militants with chips on their shoulders about things none of us or our parents, grandparents & probably great grandparents had anything to do with just gets people’s backs up.

  4. Seems to be a big PR push for this project. Are we being warmed up that it has been chosen for the Town 25 million project, while no other applications have been made public – so there is no public scrutiny. I’m all for anything that is inclusive, but this doesn’t feel as though it is. That is disconcerting.

    • The government & media are very keen to push right on messages to us. ITV on their ‘local’ & national ‘news’ are forever bombarding us with pieces on LGBTQ, mental health(hilarious, as the media play a large part in poor mental health) & race-currently Meridian News are doing the black history month pieces. Problem is when it is forced & woke it turns a lot of the audience off & when the news becomes more of a propaganda tool for those in power & the far left then it becomes problematic.

      The way this has been reported is that it is going to happen, those in power want it to happen & will ensure it does at any cost, that there is nobody else interested in this site, that even if there are economically viable alternatives that would benefit the entire area- that having this is far more important, that those who shout loudest & do publicity stunts like beaming images onto a housing block get what they want & are immune from following the law or getting permission first, because if you try to subject them to the same rules as everybody else then they just play the persecuted victim card etc.

  5. A new community centre for all the community not just some would be welcome, I’m all for that as there is a huge need in Thanet.
    I get it that there needs to be social cohesion to bring people together, but focusing on just certain members of society rather than the whole society just doesn’t do that, it just pushes many people away thinking it is not to include them.

    BTW, can someone please explain what the DEM stands for in People Dem Collective as I have seen no mention anywhere.

    • Go to their website , Dem is described as – a colloquial patois term for “them”- as for the article it’s condescending tripe. Integration is very much a two way street, the actions and behaviour of everyone pretty much defines how and with who you mix and are welcomed by.

  6. Hmmm . . . so the author of this piece admits she did not go to see the art by prisoners because she had never been to prison so it was not something that would interest her.

    As I have never been a lesbian, I don’t hail from Romania, my neurotics are not diverse and I am not even brown, let alone black, I have to say that the same lack of interest must apply to me with whatever this new centre plans to display.

    In one paragraph the author is saying that the planned centre is designed to bring local people together and to be a place of inclusivity – and yet other paragraphs indicate it is a centre primarily for the LGBT (etc. etc. etc.) community – and presumably for black portraits because there are too many white portraits in the National Gallery.

    It appears it will be merely self-serving for those who choose to promote themselves by wearing particular labels.

    • I am not sure what point she was making with the National Gallery. I am by no means an expert in art-I find the people in it like the fashion business as being highly pretentious & elitist for the most part-but I cannot recall any notable black master painters. A Quick look shows exactly what you would expect-paintings by classic British, French, Dutch & Italian painters.

      Just like I wouldn’t go to the West Indies Cricket Heritage Centre & expect to see a lot of white players from the distant past, instead of the focus being on Headley, Worrell, Weekes, Walcott, Sobers, Lloyd, Richards etc.

  7. Am I allowed to call this a white elephant? Given the sensitivity around language nowadays from some I thought I would check.

  8. How about all the OAP’S . All the gender groups one day with a bit of luck will join this quite large group. How about transport? The café next door sounds like a good idea.

  9. The proposed cultural centre would focus on important issues, but it sits uncomfortably in Margate/Thanet.

    The community here is amongst the most deprived and disadvantaged in the South East, probably the UK. The story here however is not defined primarily by race but by social class and poverty, driven by long term economic decline.

    It seems odd to propose a cultural centre which would effectively ignore the distinct struggles, experience and story of the vast majority of the surrounding community, in favour of a different subject.

  10. I thought this building was for a new hotel ,it is not the place to turn into a another white elephant as it will become, and a bigger eyesore than it already is ,and be used by the minority ,and how is group going to maintain this building if they ever managed to purchase it,I hope Kent coucil are not intending to use coucil payers money for this .

  11. Its not for local people, its pandering to the woke out of towners that are pushing prices up in area further deptiving the underprivileged local residents. Soon everything in margate will be london prices and not a single local person around just full of so called artists and anyone that chooses to play the victim

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