‘Heavy heart’ as Dreamland issues 52 redundancy notices and reveals decision not to reopen this Summer

Dreamland Photo Frank Leppard

Dreamland has given 52 members of staff notice of redundancy from July 1 due to the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The amusement park, which was due to hold 100th anniversary celebrations this July, will not reopen for the Summer – although an events programme may still take place – meaning a huge loss of income on top of that already suffered by the loss of the Easter season.

Last year the April-September season saw 650,000 visitors to the park – doubling the number on the year before.

Staff are currently furloughed until June 30 but it is expected that the government Job retention Scheme will be wound down at that point.

In a frank statement Dreamland CEO Eddie Kemsley said: “The impact of COVID-19 on people and business around the world has been devastating.  The struggles we are facing as a business – while heart breaking for those closest to it – cannot compare to the devastation that families, health workers, emergencies services and patients around the world are facing, and our thoughts are with them.

“At Dreamland, we are facing a situation no one could have possibly predicted. Just nine weeks ago, we were prepped to launch Dreamland’s best year ever, following a phenomenally successful 2019.

“It will be our 100th anniversary on July 3 and we had arranged an incredible line up of talent and amazing free to enter family events throughout the year. But this is no longer possible.

“When Government guidelines announced the closure of theatres, pubs, music venues and leisure attractions Dreamland began its emergency business planning to assess the impact. We, like every company, have contingency plans for large scale threats to the park. Even so, no attraction in the world could have prepared for the devastation of COVID-19.

“As a seasonal independent business, every single day of trading counts. The operational costs of managing and preparing the park are enormous. Every penny we take as a business is put back into the park.

“Not only have we missed the vital Easter opening season, but restrictions are also likely to continue for leisure businesses like ours for the remainder of the summer -our busiest period.

“Beyond lockdown social distancing means, we must prepare for a substantial drop in predicted visitor numbers and income for the remainder of the year.

“The costs of running an amusement park with no guarantee of attendance coupled with the uncertain future of public gatherings represent a financial risk to Dreamland.

Photo Frank Leppard

“Therefore, it is with a very heavy heart that we have taken the decision not to reopen Dreamland’s amusement park for the summer season. We will continue our events programme where possible subject to Government guidelines.

“We are making use of the Government’s Job Retention Scheme up to June 30. However, 52 members of staff have been given notice of redundancy from July 1 onwards as the amusement park will not reopen until it is safe and practical to do so.

“Twenty-two members of staff will remain to protect the site and continue business planning. All events have now been rescheduled and we hope this arm of the business will be able to return swiftly once restrictions are lifted.

“Our business planning remains fluid and when we have a clearer picture of how leisure venues will be operated, we hope to be in a position to rehire staff.

“These decisions were not taken lightly. We are determined to survive, and we will return to entertain the thousands of families and fans who have supported us over the years.

“Any guests that holds a Dreamland membership will be entitled to an extension to cover any time lost since the Government ordered the closure of all public venues in March.”

Plans for Dreamland had been to expand events, festivals, gigs and look at further possibilities for hotel accommodation to create an all-year around business.

The amusement park, which relaunched for the second time in 2017 after a £25million investment from company Arrowgrass, wanted to expand what’s on offer for residents, boost the Margate economy, offer year-round work contracts and explore options for keeping visitors to festivals and gigs in the town with more hotel choice.

Margate Estates Dreamland hotel image

In February last year Dreamland’s parent company Margate Estates gained approval for its 124 bed hotel on Marine Terrace in the ‘Godden’s Gap’ space and at the site currently occupied by Ziggy’s rooftop bar and the adjoining building.

However these plans must now go on hold while the country deals with the pandemic.

The last submitted accounts, covering 2018, accounts show 258 employees for the park with the majority, 216, being site staff, resulting in a £4.2million wage bill plus £182,224 ‘director renumeration.’

Share capital at the end of 2018 was valued at £51,7million minus profit/loss reserves of £22.7million leaving a total of £30million.

County councillor Karen Constantine said: “It is a great shame that Dreamland is laying off staff. People across Thanet have jobs at this landmark venue. Like many locals it’s a place I love to visit with family and friends. Corona is posing many difficulties, and everyone is going their best to cope with them.

“Many staff will be worried as to how they will find new jobs. I’d like to know how Dreamland managers are complying  with their legal responsibilities. Employers must play their part in our time of national crisis by protecting jobs as far as possible.

“I would like to know how they are intending to complete formal and meaningful information and consultations (under Regulation 20 of the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations) to influence decisions being taken about the future of the business while employees are on lockdown. As they are a major employer in our area I’ve contacted them to seek clarification. I’d be pleased to hear from any member of staff involved.”