Dreamland’s renaissance is one of a number of regeneration projects that have been striv-ing to rebuild Margate’s reputation as a leisure and cultural destination.
Debate has taken place within the town about whether Margate should still identify itself as a seaside resort, and also looked at ways that regeneration can be progressed in a modern and attractive way.
Regeneration in the town has been spearheaded by the Margate Renewal Partnership, a multi-agency partnership including Thanet District Council, Kent County Council, the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), the Government Office of the South East, Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Partnerships and English Heritage. More than £35 million has already been secured, invested in a range of developments, public realm and cultural activities.
There has been a long history of feasibility and framework reports for Margate’s regeneration. These include the 2005 Urban Design Framework, by consultant Tibbalds, which looked at key sites including Dreamland. Locum Destination Consulting has also prepared a Margate Visitor Destination Strategy, which looked at creating a number of distinctive ‘quarters’ within Margate. Current non-cultural regeneration plans include a new link road, traffic calming along the seafront and a ‘pedestrian loop’ within the town centre.
The importance of cultural investment
Harding says the town is “starting from a really challenging low base” and cultural investment is seen as a vital part of the regeneration mix. High quality cultural offers are seen as not only attracting high spending visitors, but also for diversifying the audience and delivering visitors throughout the year. “We need more affluent individuals to move to the area,” he notes. “And cultural facilities are as important to some as schools and jobs.” However, culture-led regeneration is seen as being only one part of a much broader mix of initiatives that will also include addressing issues such as the poor condition of housing and support for residents.
To create a seaside resort for the 21st century requires creating “a contemporary, high quality experience, with a mix of high culture and mass culture,” he says. Margate sees its future as a combination of seaside tradition, quirkiness, family fun and creativity.
Margate’s cultural links are many and varied, embracing JMW Turner, Tracey Emin, Graham Swift and TS Eliot. Today there is a ‘small and emergent’ cultural community in the town, according to the 2008 report A Cultural Vision for Margate: The Next Ten Years.
Over recent years there have been various creative initiatives including:
- Limbo: an artist-led project that leases a disused electrical substation as a project and studio space
- CRATE studio and project space
- festivals and events, including Margate Rocks, the town’s contemporary arts festival.
- Turner Contemporary, which has attracted a high level of debate, mainly due to its protracted development. The gallery building, designed by architect David Chipperfield, is under construction on the Eastern seafront. Turner Contemporary currently leases a temporary space, formerly Marks and Spencer, on Margate’s High Street.
While creative businesses will remain focused in the Old Town district, Dreamland is recognised as one of the future seafront hubs for creative activity, alongside Turner Contemporary, the Theatre Royal and Winter Gardens. The aim is to create ‘the best seaside town in England for visual arts practice and experience’.
Save Dreamland campaign
Instrumental in campaigning for retaining some form of ‘major’ amusement park at Dreamland as well as preservation of the Scenic Railway - has been the Save Dreamland Campaign. Formed in 2003, the campaign has developed into The Dreamland Trust, playing a key role in conceiving a new future for the site.
In early 2008, the Prince’s Regeneration Trust was commissioned by Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company and Margate Renewal Partnership to produce a ‘route plan’ for Dreamland, identifying the opportunities and challenges presented by the site and also providing recommendations to move regeneration forward.
The scoping report recommended that the cinema should become a flexible venue, combining film with other uses such as live music and comedy. However, it recognised the need for further feasibility and business planning work. It also developed plans for a heritage amusement park, first mooted by The Save Dreamland Campaign and further outlined by Locum Destination Consulting in its assessments of the resort. The scoping report spoke of the broad appeal of the Dreamland site, with the potential to attract a wide demographic, combining heritage with the contemporary, popular and mainstream culture, innovation with established entertainment values.
In the scoping report, a recommendation was also made to pursue funding from Sea Change. However, when Sea Change Wave One was announced, the parties involved in the regeneration of Dreamland identified Sea Change as a priority but “we knew that we were not in a position to put together a viable proposition,” explains Harding. When the availability of feasibility grants was announced, “we felt it was an opportunity to undertake the work needed for the site.”