Sea change: welcome to Margate’s queer scene

Words by Jordan Page
Photos by Courteney Frisby

From venues to community initiatives, the coastal town is fast becoming an LGBTQIA+ hotspot – we caught up with the faces and spaces breathing new life into the area

Brighton, Manchester and London. As the UK’s queer capitals go, these three cities spring to most people’s minds – they’re home to large LGBTQIA+ communities, an array of dedicated spaces, and queer-specific support networks and organisations. While the glittery Pride bashes of Edinburgh, Birmingham and Belfast make them close contenders, a seaside town in Kent is quickly emerging as a new favourite queer destination: Margate. 

Known for its sandy beaches and historic funfair, a queer presence has been felt in Margate for decades, with more and more of the community heading to its shores over the years. But despite pop-up events, eclectic local talent and a Pride weekend, the town has been lacking in permanent queer venues. Sundowners held the fort alone in the town centre for nearly two decades, until CAMP – an aptly named crowdfunded bar in Cliftonville – opened its doors last summer.

Derek du Preez (centre) and Sophie Brown (right) helped cofound CAMP in 2022

“We felt like everything was quite dark coming out of the pandemic,” says Derek du Preez, one of the cofounders of CAMP. “Our goal was to create a queer space open four or five days a week that didn’t take itself too seriously.” Initially a club night, Derek opened CAMP in partnership with his sister Jess du Preez, her partner Olivia Lloyd, and their friends Jess Hall and Sophie Brown – all of whom have lived in Margate for a number of years. To get it off the ground, they used personal savings and fundraised just under £15,000 with the help of the local community. “Once we opened, it felt amazing that so many people were already invested in the story and the space,” explains Derek. 

Decked out with a green-and-white chequered bar, trans flag bunting and a Studio 54-worthy giant mirror ball, the “pop nonsense” bar and inclusive community space is home to experimental drag shows, queer book clubs and a popular early noughties culture quiz. “Ultimately, we want our events to put a smile on people’s faces,” says Derek.

Neo-burlesque drag performer Deeva D on stage at CAMP

A community hub

As well as regularly hosting club nights at fellow queer-run, “femme-focused” venue Margate Arts Club, CAMP also exists as a space for the local LGBTQIA+ community, which Derek says is growing fast. “So many people have said to us that CAMP feels like a gay Cheers, where whenever someone walks in, they always feel welcome – even if they’re alone and just after a coffee and a chat.”

“Having CAMP open is a gamechanger for the queer community here,” says Ray, one half of queer feminist punk duo The Pink Suits, who moved to Margate in early 2021 and who sometimes works behind the bar at CAMP. “It provides a consistently open base for queer locals, which is exactly what the area needed.” As well as their self-described “aggressive, political and screamy” punk, Ray and bandmate Lennie are known locally for their flamboyant outfits, cabaret shows (which see them shapeshift into cowboys and sailors) and curated experimental events at local grassroots venues such as Whereelse?, which include rodeo-themed bash Queer Cuntry and a new show, Punk & Judy. 


“Thinking about those early days, if we wanted to run a queer event, we were relying on the same 20 people to show up to everything. But now, there’s so many more queer people in Margate, and everyone – including venues – is super-supportive of you giving something a go,” says Lennie. Both have noticed that since the pandemic, more artists in the area are running their own independent events, from stand-up shows and open mics to scratch nights – and that local support never waivers.

“Margate is the perfect place to try out new, more experimental stuff,” says Ray. They explain that because Margate’s community is smaller – and less competitive – there’s not as much pressure as in cities like London, which allows for a more playful approach to performing. “At the heart of it, there’s a dedicated group of queer people and allies that turn up and support performers here,” says Derek. “And as a result of that, people are able to develop their art and put on a really great show.” 

Lennie, one half of the queer feminist punk duo The Pink Suits

Pride in inclusivity

While club nights, queer spaces and the artists living in Margate continue to thrive, locals such as Gaëtan De Gauthier are at the helm of the organisations catering for the area’s increasingly diverse community. An art curator spotlighting Black and Brown artists, Gaëtan is the founder of Margate Black Pride, an organisation that aims to support LGBTQIA+ people of African, Caribbean, Latin American and Middle Eastern descent in the area. He says that the initiative was born out of a frustration around the lack of representation of Black and Brown queer people in smaller towns.

“I think our community waits around too long for things like this. But we shouldn’t wait, we should take it ourselves,” he says. “It’s not about separating anyone. We all want to celebrate our queerness, but it’s important that we remember and honour our history.”

Founded last year, Margate Black Pride is still in its early stages while Gaëtan looks for sponsors. Last summer, he hosted an art show (which was extended twice due to popularity) to raise money for the initiative, and he’s currently planning awareness events at Margate Pride and CAMP. “Margate Pride has been great, and they’re very inclusive of the Black and Brown queer community,” says Gaëtan. “But we want our own organisation – one run by people like us, for people like us.”

Aside from events, Gaëtan hopes that Margate Black Pride will provide a non-judgmental support system for Black and Brown queer people, both in Margate and in other smaller UK towns. “Sometimes, even just talking to someone is enough,” he says, referencing the worrying rise of homophobic, transphobic and racist hate crimes in the UK. “Making sure people are being listened to, included and cared for is the most important thing.”


The exterior of Margate's CAMP bar and community space

Just the start

Another draw attracting queer people to Margate is the tight-knit feel that connects its residents. “The wonderful thing about the area is that it’s very political, it’s very arts-driven, and it’s very forward-looking in terms of people’s perspectives,” says Derek. While he’s quick to point out that not every town is perfect – and that arguments about gentrification are often made about new businesses in the area – he believes that venues like CAMP are undoubtedly benefiting the community. 

“We’ve spoken to so many people who grew up in Margate and have lived their entire lives here, and they’ve said that they’re so thankful for CAMP opening,” he says. “My main hope is that the businesses that open remain run by people who live locally.”  

Gaëtan, Ray, Lennie and the CAMP team are just a few of the figures turning the tide in Margate by spearheading its newly reinvigorated and diversified scene. And although they have their sights set on Pride events and travelling parties in cities like London and Manchester, ultimately the team at CAMP want to see Margate’s queer community continue to thrive. “From our perspective, the more queer people in the area, the better,” says Derek. 

“We certainly don’t want to be the last queer venue to open here either. Whether it’s in the form of bars, cafes or art spaces, dedicated queer venues are exactly what the community needs.”

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