In 2019 a group of people got together in Margate. “I’d heard stories from friends and colleagues of being erased,” says Kelly Abbott of People Dem Collective. “So I called a few people around my house and said: what you saying? Let’s build something for us that’s about us taking up space.” Victoria Williams, also of People Dem, adds: “There was a real will and drive that we wanted to build something. And then, of course, there was the murder of George Floyd.”
Kelly went to the London protests. “I remember coming back on the train thinking: we need to do this in Margate,” she says. “I started a WhatsApp group here in Margate for Black and Brown people and I put it on the group. We were expecting about 200 people but there were over 4,000 in attendance. It was absolutely amazing. It gave us the feeling that we’re doing the right thing and that we can make bad boy change here.”
People Dem – a Patois term colloquially meaning ‘them’ – was born and soon the collective were making huge waves. As a registered CIC they set out to “facilitate systemic change, promote healing and continue the work of our ancestors by elevating the presence, work and visibility of people from Black, Brown and Diaspora communities. We focus on their inclusion, engagement and raising aspirations. We are mobilising a shift in the fundamental structures within our community, to ensure our sectors, leaders and decision-makers reflect the communities that live here.”
Within just two months of organising that initial march, they were involved in curating the Margate NOW festival, as well as curating and installing the Margate to Minneapolis exhibition at Turner Contemporary, which was based on the placards and banners designed for the protest.
The movement also galvanised many of the young people in the area, such as Kane McArthur. After meeting Abbott and Williams at the protest, there was an instant connection. “There was this intense sense of instant belonging,” he says. “They took me under their wing and have given me nothing but guidance. I can’t even put my gratitude into words. They’ve done so much for me as a young man.”
It’s set Kane on a new path of self-belief. “It’s put me in a whole new headspace of how I approach things,” he says. “I’ve always had hobbies that I’d want to try but I never really had that confidence to believe in myself to fulfil them. They realised I did music and wanted to push me. They set up an opportunity to go to London and record a live performance for the Black Dreams Matter project and that got projected on Arlington House in Margate. To go from just spitting a couple of raps in my bedroom to being projected on the biggest building in your local area was mind blowing. They really liberated me. It’s been a case of what you see in them, you believe you can do. It’s just been so inspiring.”
The momentum and support that People Dem has built up in the community has been significant. They hosted the first ever Black Pride float at 2021’s Pride celebration, quickly followed by organising the town’s first ever Black History Month and also managed to raise over £35,000 from a Crowdfunder to develop a national cultural centre.
“The community really showed up and supported us,” says Victoria. The plans for the centre involve taking over a five-story building in the town centre and implementing three strands – education, healing and vitality, and arts and culture – but for now, as plans develop, they will be in a transitional space carrying on the work they are already doing from a small office. “We have over 50s Black women’s meetings, there’s a Black art group, Black tarot reading sessions, meditation, as well as an African Saturday school. We are already doing this in a restricted space with a restricted budget. Once we move on we’ll just get bigger and bigger.”