EXPLAINED: Canterbury’s love-hate relationship with graffiti

Graffiti is a heavily disputed topic in any major city or town, but it’s a particularly hot topic for city councillors and residents alike in Canterbury.

The surging epidemic in Canterbury saw 342 reports of graffiti recorded between 2017 and 2018.

Canterbury City Council’s clean up contractor, Serco, also managed to remove 500 tags last year.

Reporting graffiti:

A simplistic way of reporting graffiti in Canterbury has also come in to place in a bid to combat the ever-growing problem.

You can attach a photograph of the graffiti and even pin point it on a map.

Canterbury City Council’s graffiti reporting system.

Liberal Democrat councillor for the Wincheap ward, Nick Eden-Green, also works with the council and volunteers to eliminate graffiti in and around the medieval city.

The fight against graffiti in the subways:

Nick and other volunteers have recently been working on improving the Wincheap subway.

“The Wincheap subway, in fact, all of the subways have been upgraded. Roughly £150,000 has been put towards improving the subways – £50,000 for each one,” he said.

The money allocated for the improvement of the subways is from a Section 106 legal agreement. This is where a developer puts money back into society and the council have to use it for improvements in and around the city.

With all three subways in Canterbury having had money put into them, Nick says it still hasn’t deterred people from graffiting.

He said, “The Riding Gate subway and the St George’s subway have had that money spent and they’re graffiti’d again.

“You’ve got to make it look busy, that way a tagger’s tag doesn’t show up so well.

“In my opinion, the Riding Gate subway money was spent wrongly, it was cleaned and covered in anti-graffiti paint. This presents a blank wall or a blank canvas.”

What Nick and his team are doing is different to the other subways.

The walls leading to the Wincheap subway have already started to be covered in ‘busy’ coloured tiles.

Yet, days after the tiling began it had already been graffiti’d.

Graffiti already on the Wincheap subway’s new tiling.

Nick told us, “What we’re doing in Wincheap is to tile it so we can to clean the graffiti off. And in fact, within days of it being tiled – graffiti was put on there. I went down there and it’s a jolly sight easier cleaning it off tiles than it is a concrete wall.”

Most recently, on Tuesday January 29 Canterbury City Councillor Terry Westgate uploaded this image of the underpass on to the Canterbury Grot Spots Facebook page:

Wincheap underpass graffiti’d again. Image courtesy of Terry Westgate, Canterbury ‘grot spots’ group.

Westgate’s caption states, “The new tiling on the Wincheap Underpass was badly graffitied on Tuesday night with red spray paint! A huge thank you to Susan Kilczewski for her help in cleaning this off today. This was a huge task, but the end result was very rewarding.”

The tunnel’s lighting will also be improved too to deter anyone wanting to tag.

Along the walls in the tunnel there will be images of the cathedral, The Beaney and Hambrook Marshes will be displayed at 3x2m wide and covered in plastic so they’re wipeable.

“This tunnel is the centre point of the meeting of the city and nature. It will sign post and give directions to these destinations,” the Lib Dem Councillor told Unified.

Commissioned murals on the subways:

With commissioned murals becoming an extremely popular deterrent against graffiti, we asked Nick whether he has ever considered organising one in Canterbury.

Commissioned mural in Brighton by Alice Skinner.


He said, “I’ve talked to UCA, I’ve talked to Christ Church University and I’ve talked to various universities in the past but sadly this never came to anything.

“If we could get a really good artistic mural put in place that would be super.


“I was, 20 years ago now, responsible for getting the local residents association and the council to do the murals on the St George’s subway. It actually has a picture of me at the end of it with a paint roller because I put on all the undercoat, and I put the anti-graffiti paint on top of it afterwards. I too commissioned the artist.”

Why do people graffiti?

The city councillor was just as confused as to why people do graffiti as much as the next person.

But he did distinguish the difference between graffiti and tagging.

“There is some graffiti to be fair, Banksy’s the perfect example. It’s really good and it is art, which is fine. But actually, what we’ve got is a series of tags and I don’t know why people do it.  I’m afraid it’s expensive, it destroys the place that people live, and it’s something we really do need to get on top of,” Mr Eden-Green told us.

Banksy’s iconic ‘Girl with heart balloon’ stencil. Picture credit to Flickr.com – Dominic Robinson

Is there somewhere graffiti artists can practice in Canterbury?

For those who want to explore their artistic callings with aerosols there isn’t anywhere in Canterbury for people to practice graffiti.

Mr Eden-Green explained why the city council hasn’t got a ‘legal wall’ in place. He said, “We’ve looked into this and I would like to point out a difference here between graffiti, which is art, and tagging.

“If it was genuinely artistic graffiti, we have talked about giving over one of the subway walls or another wall to artists to do that.

“But if we talk about tagging, no, there isn’t and I don’t think there actually should be. I don’t think that it is anything that is going to help the community.”

According to the councillor it has been tried in other cities but hasn’t worked out well.

“If we could get people coming forward with some really good art work then I’d be very much in favour of having those on the subway walls,” he said.

There are however, ‘legal’ places where one can do graffiti freely which are mapped out on the site legal-walls.

Leake Street, a ‘legal wall’ lovers heaven, Waterloo, London.

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