The famous Dreamland Amusement Park in Margate reopened on 19th June 2015 following a 12-year campaign to save the attraction, which is the oldest surviving amusement park in the UK. The Dreamland Trust is the organisation that originated the project, secured funding and managed its delivery.
Nick Laister, chairman of the Trust, gave a short speech just before the ribbon was cut talking about highlights of the 12-year project, and thanking the organisations that had helped the Trust deliver, notably the Save Dreamland Campaign, Thanet District Council, Heritage Lottery Fun and, in recent months, Sands Heritage Ltd.
Nick says: “It is now 12 years since I first set up the Save Dreamland Campaign. The reopening of the park on 19th June was an incredible day for me and the hundreds of campaigners who have worked tirelessly to make this happen.”
Nick, who first got involved with Dreamland in 2001 when he successfully asked the UK Government to give listed building status to the Scenic Railway roller coaster, adds:
“The idea for rebuilding Dreamland as an attraction that celebrates amusement park and seaside history and culture was something that we came up with in 2007. It seemed so right to rescue rides that were being destroyed in amusement park redevelopments, at the height of the property bubble and rebuild them alongside the Scenic Railway in a vibrant new visitor attraction at Dreamland. “
Susan Marsh, the Secretary of the Dreamland Trust, takes up the story:
“We decided that campaigning alone wasn’t enough. There needed to be an organisation that could actually involve itself in driving forward plans to reopen Dreamland, by going out there and securing funding for the project. We needed to bring to life the hopes and aspirations of the many volunteers and thousands of supporters, locally, nationally and even internationally.”
The Dreamland Trust was born towards the end of 2007, with some very hardworking directors coming on board who then set about persuading numerous organisations around the UK that Dreamland was a cause worth supporting. Nick says:
“With organisations such as English Heritage and the Arts Council behind us, we were able to apply for money from Heritage Lottery and the Government. We successfully secured several million pounds from Heritage Lottery Fund and we eventually managed to get the project budget up to £18m.”
With the money in place, The Dreamland Trust began to develop the layout, look and feel of the park. But there were major setbacks. Susan says:
“The Scenic Railway fire of 2008 was a major blow to the project. Not only was 25% of the structure of the listed roller coaster destroyed, the station and workshops were also lost, including all the original wooden trains with their distinctive carved dragon’s heads. But in an unexpected way, it gave the project traction as everybody realised that if things did not happen quickly Dreamland would be lost forever. The project really took off.”
From that day the project gained momentum, and with millions of pounds of funding in place a team of designers, engineers and amusement ride specialists came on board and, under the Dreamland Trust’s leadership, the project that we see today started to take shape.
Susan adds: “We appointed a team of top consultants, architects and designers. For example, we appointed Wayne Hemingway as a consultant to create the Dreamland branding. We stated that we did not want a heritage amusement park – the term was actually banned! We wanted a mix of rides from all eras, events, festivals, food and numerous supporting attractions, all presented in a non-ironic way. The team brilliantly embraced our vision.”
Nick explains that recently a local company has been appointed to operate the park:
“The Dreamland Trust and its partner Thanet District Council have now selected a local company, Sands Heritage Ltd, who are responsible for operating Dreamland.”
Sands Heritage organised the highly acclaimed opening day which, despite a small number of rides not being operating, really hit the mark.
Nick says: “In a town that has already seen positive change following the very successful opening of Turner Contemporary, Dreamland is another major leap forward. The opening day felt like one giant party, and Dreamland will now bring hundreds of thousands of tourists to Margate, will create hundreds of jobs and opportunities for local companies.
“I am proud of the Dreamland Trust’s successful work to bring this iconic attraction back from dereliction – a demonstration of how effective a passionate group of volunteers can be in really making things happen. It has been a long, hard fought, 12-year process, and the icing on the cake has been Sands Heritage Ltd’s brilliant realisation of of our vision over a ridiculously tight timescale.
“This is only the beginning, and the Dreamland Trust looks forward to working with Sands Heritage, Thanet District Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund to ensure this project provides the maximum benefit to the community.”
The opening of Dreamland has been covered extensively on television, radio and newspapers. Notable are Third Sector Magazine, Isle of Thanet Gazette, Kent Online, Press Association, Sunday Mirror, Daily Mail 1, Daily Mail 2, The Independent, The Guardian, Channel 4 News, BBC News, ITV News and The Telegraph.