Council to decide on plans for ‘floating’ wooden art box inside Newgate Gap shelter

Newgate Gap shelter Photo Seb Reilly

Plans to build a temporary ‘floating’ wooden structure inside the Newgate Gap seafront shelter in Cliftonville are awaiting decision from Thanet council.

The application has been lodged by arts charity Stretch which took on the structure as a community asset transfer from Thanet council last year.

The organisation works with marginalised groups to deliver art projects.

The ‘art box’ proposal is due to be in place for up to two years and has been designed to create the illusion that it is floating.

Dean Stalham

Dean Stalham, from Stretch, created the design, overseen by architects, and says it will have seating, flower boxes and a regularly changing art exhibition featuring local people and artists as well as by people from hard to reach groups.

He said: “I moved here four years and am a former prisoner, I have never hidden that fact. I am now a leading community arts leader that has worked on national and international art projects designed to helping to bring people to share in the joy of art.

“I lived for two years just yards from the Newgate Gap shelter and hated seeing is demise and dereliction. it really saddened me.”

Dean, who has worked for Stretch for eight years, says the charity wanted a base in Margate due to the town’s “national status as a safe haven and hub for the arts.”

In 2018 the structure had been earmarked for demolition but Thanet council reversed that decision following a Save the Newgate Gap Shelter campaign.

Newgate Gap Photo Seb Reilly

The shelter was then subject to a building control notice and in October 2019 the roof and seating were removed. The same month it was listed for asset disposal by Thanet council.

Four expressions of interest were received, including community group the Friends of Cliftonville Coastline. The Stretch bid and five year plan was chosen by the council to take on the shelter. That bid included proposals to create the first national museum for ‘outsider’ art via projects with groups such as prisoners, ex-prisoners, rough sleepers, mental health groups and young people in care,

However, the current art box proposal has prompted 11 objections to be lodged with Thanet council.

One objection raises concerns about due diligence during the asset disposal process, whether the structure will remain in public use rather than being a ‘private closed gallery space,’ and asks why “TDC were no longer prioritising the need to return the shelter to its historical condition and usage (having previously stated that this was the priority aim of transfer).”

Another objection raised fears of the structure becoming victim to arson or attracting flytipping while others raised fears that the shelter would not be renovated and would become boarded up like the Fort Hill structure.

One objection states: “What I want and expect to see in this area of historical importance is our shelters preserved and maintained for posterity, not the desecration of a heritage building and the erection of a wooden box in its place. I find this particularly galling as Birchington Parish Council – along with help from KCC, TDC (ironically) and volunteers – is currently renovating and repairing nine sea shelters , restoring them to their former glory. If they can do this, why can’t Margate?”

Stretch plans an ‘outsider art gallery’ and museum at Newgate Gap shelter

Dean says the plans are for publicly accessible features and art exhibitions to be in place until permanent plans for the structure can be carried out. Permanent proposals include “a sensitive rebuild and an outsider arts trail, workshops and exhibitions.”

Dean said: “The main plans cannot be put into place for two years.  I came up with the idea for the art box, a temporary wooden box within the derelict structure that remains.

“From the road and from the sea walk it would appear to the eye that the box is floating. This reflects the look of the floating boats in the sky.

“The box will have chairs all around it with flower boxes -I won a silver medal at the 2008 Chelsea Flower Show and was featured on Gardeners World by Alan Titchmarsh -so I  know about gardening and the aesthetic qualities of the right flowers and shrubs.

“The art box will be covered from top to bottom, on all sides with art every day for two years. The art will be on vinyl posters. From the sea walk and road it will be visually amazing.

“The change of art will be made every three weeks. so it will be an everchanging landscape. We want people to walk up to it and be amazed.

“The first showing on the art box will be  posters we had produced by JR’s Inside Out Project of over 70 Thanet based artists who love and support us. The second exhibition will be Everisto- Boyce and his ‘Amazing’ collection, that is featured and sold in Turner Contemporary. Imagine walking your dog or jogging or cycling and coming across that!

“Art is the winner and we are sure that whatever we do with the space it will be amazing and an asset to the area and its immediate surroundings.”

Stretch founder Carlotta Allum previously outlined main plans for the shelter, saying: ““Stretch would like to open the first national museum for Outsider Art. The site has such an unusual and brilliant position we want to make it an iconic addition to the Margate art scene. Every year we would commission an “outsider art walk” of outsider art works and sculptures from Turner Contemporary along the sea front and up to the site.

“The vision is that the rebuild will be sensitive to the original features and incorporate as much of the roof and iron work as is safe and possible, ideally some of the original seats or a row of seats to take in the view at least, in a modern twist on the original pavilion design.”

A decision on the application is yet to be made. It can be accessed on Thanet council’s planning portal. Reference F/TH/20/1593


  1. What ever you do it will be destroyed by the “locals” as they destroyed the shelter then destroyed the fencing around the shelter to protect what’s was left…

  2. is there no end to this art nonsense – people have more to worry about than c**p like this , the councils time and money would be better spent on things like the broken pavements – the rubbish thats everywhere – street lighting and so on. all this is a smokescreen as to what a dump this area realy is !!!!

    • I agree this whole arty thing is getting out of control.

      Art can fix this fix that etc etc its getting boring.

      If art is so good why is thanet becoming a more divided place ?

      Make the TC pay it’s way its clear that the art sector can afford to pay for they hobby yet its us hard working class people that fund their hobby, though our taxes. It’s not fair and needs stopping.

      Any spare money from taxes should be going on charities that help the poor and vulnerable of our community. Not on the well off arty peoples hobbies.

      I am sick to death of art this art that.

    • The site was earmarked for “asset disposal” which means the community loses something that was communal. Someone has the guts and graft to challenge this, and offer a vision where it is returned to a public asset. Well done Dean! Stretched Lips have done great work with vulnerable and disadvantaged people, and those stigmatised by society, and I think the promotion of ‘outsider art’ will help more people access the benefits from the investment in culture that is happening in our area – a legitimate complaint from those feeling left behind by changes in Thanet. Whether you think you like art or not, cultural regeneration is part of the plan to make Thanet more resilient, economically and socially.

  3. What now remains of the former shelter is an unrecognisable roof girder – it could just have been a small warehouse or workshop.

    Do we really need more public art funding for an obscure project that will be of minority interest ?

    It is just a shame that the money was not spent in the first instance to maintain a public asset for the benefit of the public as a whole.

  4. Forget the bloody art , we are a seaside resort , normal people come here for the sea and sand !
    Locals really aren’t interested in the Turner centre and it’s shite !

    • The art of Margate has brought investment, visitors and jobs in the regions of £5 million pounds or more -without which Maragte would be disappearing

      • If your £5 million investment guess is anywhere near true, the Turner gallery has been an appalling investment. Apart from the £20 million building cost, it has received yearly multi-million-pound tax-funded grants (KCC, Arts Council etc) and has had a £2million refurb after just 10 years. When will someone stand up and say ‘enough’? There is more to Margate than the self-regarding ‘creative’ few.

  5. The priority should have been for it to be restored so that the whole community can benefit from it again. This is a Conservation area but TDC doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of conserving anything.
    What a waste and the girders will not last long being open to the weather for another two years.
    The council seem to enjoy upsetting local communities by undoing their great work. It is very demoralising when you are fighting against an authority for everything that should be expected of it.

  6. Thumbs up …. I love the idea of planting and seating we really it a lack green planted spaces and to enjoy art at the same time bonus! Doing something is better than doing nothing.

  7. Some people’s comments seem to be missing the bigger picture that is about incredible change. A renovated pavilion gives no chance of change what so ever. So many of you with no real insight, speaking without thinking. The world would be lost without art! Change happens whether we like it or not. None of us can halt it.

  8. I’m shocked by the negative comments in regards to this idea. This structure is at the end of the road I live on and as soon as I heard it would be used for this purpose I was overjoyed. It’s interesting and ‘out of the box’ thinking. I wish them every success with this.

    • The “negativity” as you put it, is more to do with the way the area is being shaped by a very vocal minority and that what was meant to be as set out in the transfer and council agreement is now delayed for at least two years, why is it not possible to commence with the original vision using the budget thats going on the “box”? Which is really going to be little more than a stuido for a selected few covered in posh posters. A few seats and some planting are all very well but it sounds more like a bit of flannelry to get what is being proposed.
      In addition the whole arts thing has become a bit of an all consuming monster, it risks placing far too many eggs in a single basket whilst at the same time catering mainly for those having come to the area in relatively recent times and the areas longer standing residents are beginning to feel that their wants and views are of little importance.

        • I set out my concerns in the post, it’ll be two years at a minimum before the original “vision” arises , no reason given for the delay . So faith in a project that is already moving the goalposts is perhaps asking a bit too much.
          It’s been a not inconsiderable period of time since the Turner Contemporary opened let alone was first muted, given the huge amounts its had thrown at it , i and many others fail to see what it’s really achieved other than attract lots of other handout hungry incomers with their lofty ideals and ambitions.
          The area needs investment in jobs and community pride/cohesion not lots of arty hobby horses. Not that there’s anything wrong with art , rather that it would be nice if after all this time it could stand on its own two feet and fund its self.

  9. I’m not sure how Margate claimed to be an arty town I moved here in 1979 and art was never mentioned especially Turner. just because Turner painted a few canvases which I believe he did in numerous seaside towns doesn’t in my opinion make this place arty, this council banked on the turner centre boosting Margate which I don’t think it has it has made the empty shops which are plenty look even more tacky and tastless but what do we expect from a council not fit for purpose

  10. I fully support this idea. ‘Stretch’ continue to invent, create and ‘make happen’ truly inclusive, socially-minded, community projects. The energy, drive and commitment they have is extraordinary. In a time where supporting each other in our communities has rarely been more needed, this is not only inspiring but truly heart warming. I salute you.

  11. Such a great idea. We need people like Dean and projects like this! Fully behind this and well done to forward thinking people that want to make Thanet an even better place than it currently is.

  12. Art projects have revitalised towns around the south east coast, attracting visitors, money, new businesses and residents. The Stretch charity does more – it works with the local community, schools, the homeless, ex-prisoners and the unemployed. Dean has a proven track record in delivering projects, he deserves our full support! What’s not to like?

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