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What dreams are made of - how Dreamland reawakened

Dreamland's recent past has, at the risk of cliche, been something of a rollercoaster ride.

From facing redevelopment in the early 2000s to today's triumphant opening, Dreamland's story could have ended very differently had it not been for dedicated local support that refused to see rides replaced by low-rise flats.

Nick Laister, chairman of the Dreamland Trust, said: "It's now 12 years since I set up the Save Dreamland Campaign.

Construction underway last summer. Picture Dreamland_Margate

Construction underway last summer. Picture: Dreamland_Margate

"The reopening of the park will be an incredible day for me and the hundreds of campaigners who have worked tirelessly to make this happen."

Like many seaside resorts, Margate's fortunes declined after the 1970s, and the 1990s saw falling visitor numbers and iconic rides sold off to other theme parks around the world.

In the early 2000s, Nick formed the Save Dreamland Campaign, which managed to save and store several of the iconic Dreamland rides that now hold pride of place in the new park.

"In an unexpected way, the fire gave the project traction as everybody realised that if things did not happen quickly Dreamland would be lost forever" - Susan Marsh, secretary of the Dreamland Trust

The campaign also succeeded in having the Scenic Railway listed in 2002, which meant it could not be dismantled or moved. 

Nick said: "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."

Then in 2003, then-owner Jimmy Godden announced Dreamland would close, and the site would be turned over to developers.

The move sparked outrage among many in Margate who had watched Dreamland's decline with dismay.

The park struggled on for two more years, finally closing in 2005 after being bought by Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company in 2005 for £20 million.

Susan Marsh, secretary of the Dreamland Trust, said: "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."

The Dreamland Trust was formed at the end of 2007.


 

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It immediately set about fundraising, securing high profile backers including the English Heritage and the Arts Council, which allowed the trustees to bid for money from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Eventually the trust had secured some £18 million, using the money to appoint designers Wayne and Geraldine Hemingway of HemingwayDesign to turn their vision into reality.

But disaster struck in 2008 when the scenic railway was almost destroyed in an arson attack.

The scenic railway takes shape. Picture Dreamland_Margate

The scenic railway takes shape. Picture: Dreamland_Margate

Despite the seemingly catastrophic blow, the loss of the listed rollercoaster prompted campaigners to redouble their efforts, before it was too late.

"The Scenic Railway fire was a major blow to the project," said Susan.

"Not only was 25% of the structure of the listed rollercoaster 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."

"The successful launch of phase one is a testament to all those involved in this project and those campaigners that saved Dreamland for the nation" - Eddie Kemsley, CEO of Dreamland

"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."  

But money wasn't the only obstacle.

The site was still owned by Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company, and trustees were pushing Thanet council to complete a compulsory purchase order (CPO), as the company was unwilling to sell the site.

The CPO was approved by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in August 2012, but Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company launched an appeal.

The legal wrangling continued until ownership was finally transferred to Thanet council in August 2013.

Work at the site finally got underway in earnest, and Sands Heritage Ltd has been appointed by Thanet council to run the park. 

Eddie Kemsley, CEO of Dreamland said: "The successful launch of phase one is a testament to all those involved in this project and those campaigners that saved Dreamland for the nation.

Work at the Dreamland site. Picture Dreamland_Margate

Work at the Dreamland site. Picture: Dreamland_Margate

"Through their hard work and the financial support we have received we have transformed a once derelict site back into the beating heart of Margate. 

"Without their hard work none of this would have been possible."

Dreamland’s phase one opening has created 200 jobs in Thanet, and further jobs will be available as phases two and three are announced.  

It's been a long time coming, but Dreamland's supporters now hope the park will play a significant role in improving Margate's future.


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