Getting To Know Roger de Haan

Written by Jan Holben

This was the first of a series of articles about local people, some of whom are in the public eye, and some less public people.  This interview took place in a downstairs office boardroom in Roger de Haans Sandgate office – it was minimally furnished and had a stunning view of the sea and we talked for an hour. Roger was easy to talk to and it felt more like a chat with a friend than an interview – I had to remind myself more than once to stop talking, and listen.

I picked up my carefully prepared ‘scripted prompts’ and launched into my opening question  “what is your plan for the harbour?” – and Roger started talking about education! He said, “no regeneration will be truly successful without dealing with education”. Historically very few young people from Channel School, which served much of East Folkestone, have gone on to higher education – and no wonder as Channel School didn’t have a 6th form and was in ‘special measures’ listed 3rd worse in the country.

Roger and Kings College, Canterbury got together to sponsor a bid for a City Academy and with a financial investment of £40 million and planning permission agreed he is now working with Architects Foster & Partners led by Lord Norman Foster on the structure of the Academy, and with Kings College on the educational strategy, for what will be “a spectacular new school – Folkestone Academy”. Roger is working with: David Melville – who runs Kent University , Professor Sonia Blandford – Head of the Teacher Training Faculty Christchurch University , Canterbury , Graham Badman – Director of Education for Kent and Stella Eccles Director of Production at Pfizers – a small but powerful team of trustees.

This educational strategy includes mapping out how Folkestone Academy can form a partnership with the Creative Quarter (sculptors, architects, dressmakers and all manner of other creative people) for the benefit of the children. The Academy will also be adopted by Kent University who will put undergraduate mentors into the school to work with the more gifted children and their families to encourage them to consider university – because often there is no culture within these families, of going into higher education. In a similar way, he is also working with Ramsgate Academy to form a relationship between the business community and the Ramsgate Academy – this is not just about the business community providing opportunities for work experience it goes deeper than that.

We came back round to my original question “what about the harbour?” – and Roger talked about how when he realised the harbour was for sale, and that it had a large amount of land which could be developed he thought this would be ideal for a campus which could accommodate 1000 people – he is working with Greenwich University and Christchurch University who have ambitious plans for the campus which is an essential part of the long term strategy.

Roger is also looking for business to come into the harbour, as it is an expensive operation to run with security and staff to pay for – so he is trying to attract cargo and he is in talks with ferry companies – but there is still some way to go yet.  

Roger is also keen to create a sort of ‘country park’ between the west end of the Leas (from the Martello Tower that Roger has just bought) through to the harbour and on to the East Cliff – and to bring to this area galleries, artwork and sculpture and structures which local people will be interested in and will also attract many visitors who will, hopefully, then be encouraged to visit the Creative Quarter for art shops and galleries bringing much needed revenue into the area. Roger said that some plans for the harbour in particular were not in the public domain yet – and he has many more strategy and planning sessions before we will see this in our local papers – but I can say I was impressed by the scale of his vision for the harbour area and look forward, with fingers crossed, to being able to appreciate the reality in the not too distant future.

About the proposed Folkestone’s sea front development – I thought Roger might have some quite strong views on the Trent Development proposal – what was clear is that this is not about Trent Development versus Roger de Haan. It is about aspiring for the best for Folkestone – and not accepting anything less – he said “I have this great love of Folkestone, and the sea front needs a comprehensive development not to the detriment of Folkestone as a whole. We have this fantastic opportunity, that the Edwardians had – and they made a pretty good job of it – and whatever we put there will be there 100 – perhaps 200 or more years from now – we will never have an opportunity to do this again – it should be something we will be proud of”. “We need to set our sights high – it needs vision, and it needs courage – and I think that the Fosters Masterplan has that”. Meanwhile he is waiting to see if the Government Ministers will call in the Trent application.

I asked Roger “why are you working so hard when you have retired?” – he said that although he had retired from SAGA he had not retired from work. He had wanted to create the time and space to work on his projects which now take much of his time – and he admitted that his children are not seeing as much of him as they thought they would either.

I asked Roger what drove him to work on these Folkestone projects in particular and he explained how his parents originally came from the East End of London which had a strong ‘sense of community’ – and when they moved to Folkestone, buying a small hotel called The Rhodesia in 1948, they carried that ‘sense of community’ with them. His father Sidney de Haan was an excellent pastry chef and he used to bake trays of fine pastries for his guests – but mindful of others not quite so privileged he would also take a tray of pastries to the local Barnados Home two or three times a week – this is the strong sense of giving something back to the community and caring for others that Roger has grown up with.

As Chairman of SAGA he regarded the people that worked there as his extended family, although he admitted it may have been described as a paternalistic style of leadership he said quite simply “we looked after each other”.

To finish the interview I asked “what else do you like doing – when you are not working?” – Roger said “I like to relax with my family – but I also have an interest in organic farming and something I really enjoy is getting up early to help collect the eggs and putting them into trays”.

21/04/2020 – I wrote this article some years ago – and many things have changed since this original plan. What we do have now is a very popular Harbour Arm which not only provides a wonderful place to walk, but also many different eateries and live events too during the summer months, including big screen TV. We also have a lovely walk way along the old railway line and over the harbour bridge – and work will soon commence on the area where the Rotunda used to be. Despite his being a year that no-one will ever forget due to the Coronavirus – we have much to look forward to.