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When it comes to the Great British seaside some words just sit together – fish and chips, bucket and spade, Dreamland and Margate.
The story of the amusement park is entangled in the resort’s colourful history, and now, just like Margate itself, Dreamland looks set for a bright, new future.
In its heyday, the theme park attracted two million people a year until it closed for good eight years ago as the crowds ebbed away. However, thanks to a multi-million pound investment, the Dreamland dream is still alive and there are plans to reopen next year.
Daytrippers taking the well-worn path to Margate’s Main Sands this summer can take a trip down memory lane at an all-new Dreamland exhibition – which is already drawing in the crowds like a queue for the Scenic Railway.
The Dreamland Expo, found in the old cinema complex on Margate seafront, may lack a stomach-churning roller coaster but has already welcomed more than 12,000 visitors in the six weeks since it opened.
Crammed full of arcade artefacts and nostalgic Dreamland memorabilia, the expo celebrates the past, present and future of Britian’s oldest-surviving amusement park. It is free, allowing you to spend your coppers on the rows of arcade games such as the retro pinball machines.
When the expo opened in May, around 1,000 visitors came through the doors in the first day alone and organisers haven’t looked back since. The exhibition remembers Dreamland’s illustrious heyday and charts the journey toward next year’s official relaunch of the re-imagined amusement park.
Organiser Jan Leandro isn’t surprised at the exhibition’s interest.
“Dreamland’s got a reputation that’s never gone away,” she said.
“We’ve inherited a loyal audience and community which it’s never lost. The exhibition creates an atmosphere in the space – it’s had phenomenal interest without advertising.”
The space houses an impressive collection of arcade games of various vintages as well as a documentary voiced by Barbara Windsor which charts Dreamland’s history as well as its future plans.
Jan hopes the exhibition can help educate youngsters about the Dreamland story, which closed in 2006.
“There’s a generation who have never really known Dreamland,” she said.
“They can come in here, meet us, talk to us and learn about what we are doing.”
“It’s an exciting exhibition – interactive with things people can do and completely immersive.”
Although the arcade machines have been sourced from elsewhere, many pieces from Dreamland’s former rides can be seen in the exhibition room.
If you once loved the bumper cars or preferred the carousel, there’s a piece of Dreamland history waiting to be discovered in the expo.
The fleet of arcade machines are in working order and can be played when you buy a token, with all funds helping the exhibition as a whole.
“It’s free entry to come in and every pound people donate helps keep the space open,” Jan said.
“Dreamland is an essential part of Margate’s regeneration programme.
“For that to continue, Dreamland needs to be here to sustain it in the community – to bring in more visitors and boost the local community.”
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