Photo and storytelling exhibition examines Westgate’s small businesses as ‘The Pulse’ of the town

Photographer Mareike (centre) and some of the participants of The Pulse

Westgate’s diverse business community is under the spotlight in a photographic and storytelling exhibition created by new town resident Mareike Guensche.

The Pulse Project features 19 businesses/individuals and their stories, showcasing the people and services at the heart of Westgate.

Mareike moved to Westgate five months ago from London. She has been in the UK for seven years after moving here “for love.” Although that romance is now just friendship the talented photographer has opted to stay.

The 44-year-old has more than 20 years experience in photography ranging from working as a press photographer in Berlin and for international media and as a stringer for news agency Reuters.

Mareike, who also studied photojournalism and documentary photography, lived in Mongolia for four years and worked in the humanitarian sector for organisations including Red Cross, Syria Relief, the German Relief Coalition ADH and the German development bank KFW. She has also been a Senior Lecturer for Photography at the Mongolian State University of Arts.

Her passion is using photography to tell stories and change the dynamic of traditional photojournalism to give those on the other side of the lens more power in how they are shown.

Her projects have previously included Our Voice, helping to make the issue of domestic violence in Mongolia visible and even contributing to the establishment of a law there that recognises domestic violence as a crime. Other projects have looked at breaking down the stigma around HIV and a celebration of the LGBT community.

Now Mareike has turned her attention to the community of Westgate.

‘Heart and pulse of the community’

Photographer Mareike Guensche

She said: “The aim is to create visibility for all the amazing little shops we have in Westgate, the stories and faces of those shops.

“For me it is important to connect with people.”

Part of the aim was for Mareike to get to know her new community. She said: “I had dreamed of living by the sea at some point and then wondered why am I dreaming and not doing it? So, I packed my bags and moved to Westgate and this is where I will stay.

“I was thinking about a project to allow me to get in touch with the community and then met Nicola (Bradshaw – Little Brown Fairy Cake shop owner) and we were talking and I realised how little shops were struggling. Covid had a massive impact and then the cost of living, and so I thought it would be nice to highlight the diverse shops we have here in Westgate.

“We have everything you need and can be very self sufficient and it would be good to keep that alive and thriving. That local economy is the heart and pulse of the community, if a shop shuts then the whole community looses out.

“It was an amazing way to meet people and listen to their stories.”

Initially Mareike thought she might get 10 or 12 businesses to take part but the uptake was enthusiastic, no doubt boosted by her suggestion that everyone meet and discuss the idea in Millie’s bar!

She said: “The idea is to strengthen the community from within, so many shop owners might not know the others. I thought this would be a nice way to meet and reconnect and celebrate what everyone is doing here.”

Mareike says participants chose which of her photos would be displayed. She said: “I know some people are uncomfortable in front of the camera. I like to make them feel comfortable and part of the process. The dynamics are usually the one with the camera has the power but I wanted to share that in a collaborative project and they chose which picture would go in the exhibition.

“I do believe the greatest powers we have are solidarity and community. It’s in our power to change our surroundings. It’s time to reflect on what we are losing and come together again to create new bonds and networks, new support systems and strengthen our sense of solidarity.

“By meeting again, sharing our lived realities and listening to each other we have the chance to learn and connect again, which I think is important in insecure times like today.”

The Pulse exhibition, which took four months to produce, will be on display in shop windows along Station Road and St Mildred’s Road from September 22-October 3 and also at its central venue, Little Brown Fairy Cake in Station Road, September 22, 6-8pm.

The exhibition has been made possible with sponsorship from Alexander Russell Estate Agents to cover exhibition and production costs and support from Margate Art Printing Service.

Keen swimmer Mareike hopes she can eventually take the exhibition to other towns in Thanet.

Meet six of the participants for The Pulse Project

Myles, James, Hannah and George from the Carlton Cinema: “Given how old the building is, it’s no surprise for those of us with a spooky disposition that the Carlton has a ghost! Fondly nicknamed “Jeff”, we have no idea who this spirit was in their mortal life. Just that they like to keep us company and still call the Carlton home”

Hazell, Go Girl Health & Fitness: “I really love my job and I do think life is too short to do something that you don’t enjoy. I do feel very lucky. And Westgate for me is buzzing and friendly. It’s a community and that’s what it’s all about.”

Nicola, Little Brown Fairy Cake: “I’ve lived in Westgate for over 30 years. I never want to leave, it’s suitable weird here, full of characters. It always felt like home, I don’t know why really but it’s a nice place to live.”

Mark, Ace Attire Printers: “Most people shut up businesses during Covid and we completely done the opposite. We packed our bags and boxes, relocated, found new schools for the kids, a new location for the business and started new.”

Sarah, Balanced Body Wellness: “Even if the yogis don’t talk to each other there’s still a connection there. I think it’s as much about just feeling safe amongst other people and sharing the space.”

Chris from Emma Campbell florist: ” It may not be true, maybe it is a bit of a myth but many people say that there’s a headless horseman that comes out of the arches here on Station Road on a coach and rides around the town at midnight. So you have to be careful that when you walk along. ”

Find The Pulse – Westgate-on-Sea on facebook here

1 Comment

  1. With the exception of the Co-Op, aren’t ALL Westgate-on-Sea businesses “small”? Interesting project that I’ll check out.

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