Dreamland has been saved – and we got it right!

Matt Bain

Young Money Blog is very happy to report that Dreamland, the retro-themed amusement park in Hipster-on- Sea (aka Margate) is almost certainly saved – and quite possibly thanks to suggestions like ours last year!

After a disappointing opening year and ticket sales in the doldrums, the lovingly recreated-Victorian wonderland looked doomed as it went into administration. The dream looked set to die and matters weren’t helped when Richard Morrison, arts critic at The Times, wrote an unduly scathing article about the park, blaming its inevitable demise on lame rides (and completely missing the point about what made the 1950s wonderland so promising).

A year on and operator Sands Heritage has managed to acquire a massive loan extension and has ploughed 15 million pounds into the site. Better still, Sands Heritage has taken on our suggestions (no doubt echoed by others) and is now making Dreamland the hottest destination in the South for creatives and artsy-types, reinventing the park thanks to a more targeted and sophisticated events strategy. And the likes of Richard Morrison, who seemed to know or care little about how to reinvigorate Margate’s fortunes, may well have been wrong to write off this enterprise prematurely.

Faced with the more obviously commercially-viable option of turning the park into a Kentish Thorpe Park or Chessington, the operators chose, thankfully, to plough more money into it’s USP; an artistic, 1950s retro-experience with just enough thrills to excite the kids and teenagers. As a result, we can look forward to more vintage rides and old-fashioned funfair attractions like the marble run, with a couple of new white-knuckle rides thrown in like the Crazy Mouse (the more PC Psychologically-Unbalanced Rodent didn’t fit on the sign).

However, this is one small part of the masterplan for Dreamland. The main tactic is to turn it into a major music venue, part of Margate’s great project to revive its glorious heyday as a major live music destination for the east of England. Using a huge chunk of that investment money to acquire surrounding land and turn it into acres of parkland space may prove to be the managerial stroke of genius. It is now a 150,000 capacity stage and festival site – which launches with the Demon Dayz festival on June 10th. A massive coup for Dreamland, Demon Dayz will mark the first performance by Gorrilaz to tie in with their new album, Humanz, and Noel Gallagher has also been confirmed. The full line-up hasn’t been even been announced, yet tickets sold out within ten minutes.

It’s a smart move to piggyback on the rising popularity of one-day festival events, as Iona explained in her recent blog. Then, after the sea of fag ends and Red Stripe cans have been painstakingly removed, the site will transform into a peaceful slice of green tranquillity for day-trippers to the funfair next door (1000 trees have been planted on the site).

Other festivals, explicitly catering for the artsy East London set include Hipsville-a-Go-Go, a 60s themed party, and Margate Wonderland, organised by the Hackney Festival and featuring TOY and The Kills, which will happen at Dreamland on its opening weekend on 28th May. Other events – including a concert by Toots and the Maytal – are all creating a major buzz around the town, (although a recent news report that Adele will perform her greatest hits at the park for those riding the Scenic Railway proved to be a rather inventive Aprils Fools story!)

The scheme to lay coaches on to and from London Liverpool Street is yet another clever touch. Getting creative types from London to Margate in the first place is half the battle won – the treasure trove of vintage shops, craft-beer serving pop-up bars and seaside loveliness will hopefully enchant enough into coming back, and perhaps even staying.

It’s great news all round. Dreamland’s revival has been a major project for Thanet District Council since the park was reacquired in 2013. In a town marked by deprivation and decline for decades, the hard work and effort to restore Dreamland is part of a long-term dream to rescue and redefine Margate. It’s become a cliché to talk about its Victorian heyday but Dreamland represents all our seaside towns formerly reliant on tourism, neglected for years and now trying to forge a new identity. With more artistic studios than London, Dalston-by-the-Sea is already acquiring a real buzz as a haven for young creatives as they bring money, start businesses and breath new life into the town.

A truly disheartening trend to witness in London over the past ten years has been the number of artists and creatives slowly leaving the capital, forced further and further out by spiralling rent and living costs. Many are relocating – and this is the silver lining. London’s loss of these creatives is truly the gain of resurgent places like Margate.

What do you think? Tweet @ionayoungmoney or leave a comment below…

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Bernie Morgan

    Good, upbeat article. But it fails to mention the critically important role of The Dreamland Trust. The Trust, a registered charity, had the vision and energy to save the site from resudential development, starting a campaign way back in 2003. The vision of a retro theme park was the Trust’s vision and we raised the money from the Heritage Lottery Fund to turbo charge the reincarnated Dreamland. Now the Trust works in partnership with TDC and SHL and will be opening its first art exhibition on park to coincide with the park’s reopening on 26 May.

    Just putting the record straight.

    Bernie Morgan
    The Dreamland Trust

    1. Iona

      You’re quite right to point this out Bernie. We’re majorly supportive of the vital work that has been done by The Dreamland Trust and without you guys, we wouldn’t be where we are today with Dreamland. We wanted to primarily focus on a future for Dreamland that will keep it open – and we’re very glad that this will now happen. Please stay in touch with us so we can keep abreast of further developments with Dreamland.

  2. Avatar

    I absolutely adore Margate! I’ve been going since I was a kid, so I was ecstatic when I found out the plans for Dreamland! I think you make an interesting point about ‘artists and creatives slowly leaving the capital’ – but I think if they’re leaving London and moving to places like Margate, it’s only making a great place even greater. It’s London’s loss!

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