Winter Gardens update confirms closure ‘for period of time’ from August 2022

Margate Winter Gardens Photo Frank Leppard

An update on the future of Margate Winter Gardens says the venue will be shut for ‘a period of time’ following the ‘halt’ in bookings from August 2022.

This summer it was announced that bookings for Theatre Royal and the Winter Gardens will be put on hold next year as the future of both venues is examined.

Bookings are scheduled to pause at both Margate entertainment venues, with operator Your Leisure’s annual rolling lease at Theatre Royal ceasing on 28 April 2022 and a halt in Winter Gardens bookings from August 14, 2022, although Your Leisure retains its lease which runs until 2024.

Margate Town Deal funding of £2 million has been allocated for a renovation project for the Theatre Royal and the business case for this project began in September. The council will be looking for an operator, project partner and making a funding submission to the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Margate Town Deal funding of £300,000 has been earmarked to create a fully developed plan for the Winter Gardens.

This would include a detailed project delivery plan with public and private sector engagement. Specialist services would be needed to help test the market and identify the opportunities available. Specialist architects would also be used to scope out the required works and develop a fully costed scheme. The Town Deal Board is waiting for confirmation from MHCLG regarding the funding.

However, the venue is expected to be shut to the public for at least one year.

Cllr Reece Pugh, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Economic Development at Thanet District Council, said: “Margate has always had a strong entertainment offer and the Winter Gardens is a much loved local venue. As part of the Margate Town Deal, we have allocated £300,000 of revenue funding for an in-depth appraisal looking at the best options for the Winter Gardens to ensure a sustainable future.

“The objective of the ‘Future Options Appraisal’ is to review how best to reinvigorate this underused heritage asset to support footfall and income into the town. The project will be further boosted by a series of highway and public realm interventions that are also proposed as part of the Margate Town Deal.

“No decisions about the future of the Winter Gardens have been made but it is safe to say that the impact of COVID-19 not just on the Winter Gardens but on the leisure industry as a whole, has been profound.

“The Winter Gardens, a Grade II listed building, is also in need of refurbishment and the work as part of the Margate Town Deal will help it define its place in a post-recovery marketplace.

“As part of the long-term solution for the Winter Gardens, the heritage building will need significant renovations to ensure its sustainable future for the next 100 years. It is likely that in order to facilitate this work and to secure a longer, more viable future, that the building would need to close for a period of time to allow this to be safely completed.

“Until the options appraisal has been completed however the details around this are not yet known. The public will be kept informed as this work progresses.”

Kevin Fordham, Managing Director of Your Leisure, added:“Your Leisure is working in a collaborative partnership with Thanet District Council on the long term future of Margate Winter Gardens. Until August 2022, for Your Leisure at the venue, it will be business as usual, and we are committed to delivering an extensive and diverse programme of shows and events. The current lease runs until October 2024 and we are working with our partners to deliver what is in the best interests of both Your Leisure and the iconic venue.

“The past decade has seen theatre operators placed under increasing pressure of maintaining large heritage buildings, in some cases over 100 years old. Compounding this has been the impact of the Covid pandemic which has created huge challenges for the arts and live entertainment industry across the UK.

“Prior to the pandemic, Your Leisure was in the process of successfully moving the theatre operation towards long-term financial sustainability, however, the impact of Covid restrictions removed the momentum and a much needed year of show income.”

Your Leisure will honour all tickets and events up to these dates at both venues.

Margate Winter Gardens Photo Mike Nichols

Thanet District Council owns the freehold of the Theatre Royal and the Winter Gardens.

In February’s council budget it was agreed that Thanet council would pay Your Leisure’s management fee for the year up front and paid an additional £160k to the trust. It was also agreed to loan Your Leisure between £700k-£1.5m; provide additional funding of £230k plus VAT to the Winter Gardens to ensure that it could operate by being able to replace and relocate the boilers.

The action was taken as Your Leisure faced a substantial shortfall in its income as a result of Covid with trading income down by £1.28million in 2020 compared to 2019 and outstanding liabilities in the region of £8m in terms of loans for Hartsdown and Ramsgate leisure centres.

The council, as guarantor for the leisure centre loans, could have faced extra penalties if the loans were redeemed early. Your Leisure currently repays around £600,000 per annum.

Your Leisure worked to contain the financial impact of covid with use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). It also gained £200,000 in grants from the Coronavirus Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund and secured short-term financial support from its bankers with an £800,000 loan via the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).

The leisure trust also negotiated an instalment arrangement with HM Revenue & Customs for the payment of PAYE liabilities and payment holidays on rent, loan and utility liabilities and secured additional and advanced funding from local authority partners.

An application for £930,000 grant funding through the Cultural Recovery Fund was also submitted although the amount granted was £332,000 and a crowd-funding page for Margate Winter Gardens and the Theatre Royal was also launched.

Several of Your Leisure’s hospitality staff were also made redundant last year. The leisure trust had a cash balance of £806,529 as of January 12, 2020.

Potted history of the Winter Gardens

The Pavilion and Winter Gardens took just nine months to build, costing  £26,000, and opened on August 3, 1911.

When completed the Pavilion and Winter Gardens consisted of: a large Concert Hall, four entrance halls, two side wings and an amphitheatre. Originally the stage could be viewed from both the main hall and the amphitheatre with the ability to enclose the stage in bad weather. The accommodation was for about 2,500 persons inside the building and 2,000 in the open air.

Courtesy MWG

The Main Hall had been designed as a concert and dance hall. In the early 1920s, the Margate Municipal Orchestra, consisting of 36 musicians, would perform a variety of classical and operatic works, backed by the leading vocalists of the day. Most of these were performers like Carrie Tubb and Harry Dearth, engaged from the leading London Concerts, notably Covent Garden.  Others like Pavlova – one of the world’s leading dancers – and Madame Melba were engaged as part of their world tour.

During the latter half of the 1920s Ivan Kalchinsky’s Blue Slavonic Company arrived and presented a cabaret show for six weeks. The company was to present a summer show right up until the outbreak of the Second World War.

Courtesy MWG

The Second World War, unlike the First World War, interrupted the normal life of the Winter Gardens, and within a short time almost ended it for good.

Thanet was made a restricted area, due to invasion fears, and it was prohibited to enter it for leisure or pleasure purposes. The Winter Gardens’ first war-time role was during the evacuation from Dunkirk when it acted as a receiving station for some of the 46,000 troops landed at Margate. It also found other war-time roles such as an air raid precaution and food rationing centre. There were also concerts for the troops on Sundays and Brighten-Up Dances every Thursday and Saturday.

In January 1941 many of the windows were broken when a sea mine exploded nearby, but the main structure was undamaged. Six months later, on July 7, the Winter Gardens received a direct hit causing considerable damage. The main structure of the hall remained intact and the chandeliers survived as they had been removed for storage.

The plans for reconstruction of the Winter Gardens were drawn up in 1943 but due to the war, a start on the work could not be made until February 1946.  The work took only six months to complete. The building officially re-opened on 3rd August. Repairs cost £40,000, approaching double the cost of the entire building in 1911.

After the wars stars appearing at the venue included Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and Dame Vera Lynne.

Courtesy MWG

In the 1960s the Winter Gardens hosted Helen Shapiro, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas and in July 1963 The Beatles performed there.

Stage versions of TV shows were  also proving popular with Hughie Green’s ‘Double your Money’ and ‘Opportunity Knocks’. ‘Double you Money’ was the first Summer Season to appear at the Winter Gardens since 1939, it played for ten weeks during the peak of the season in 1962.

Courtesy MWG

In 1974 with the formation of Thanet District Council, the Winter Gardens found itself with a new owner and a new man in charge, Peter Roberts. In 1978,  it was completely re-seated, re-furbished and re-carpeted at a cost of £125,000 and a new entrance provided on the seaward side of the Main Hall.

The Libertines are one of the headline acts for By The Sea Festival

The Winter Gardens continues to bring a variety of stars to Margate.

History courtesy Margate Winter Gardens/adapted from ‘A History of Margate’s Winter Gardens’ by John Williams and Andy Savage.

Theatre Royal and Margate Winter Gardens bookings ‘put on hold’ in 2022 as plans are made for future of the venues


  1. thats the end of that then ! , another nail in thanets coffin – i hope they board it up properly because anything left will be stolen or wrecked , and that includes any lead on the roof.

  2. The Margate Operatic Society are forming a community group to keep the Winter Gardens open and keep its plight in the public eye.

  3. i suppose we can only wait for it to go up in flames , like many of thanets sea front attractions have over the years ?

  4. I think that it’s such a shame that the Margate Winter Gardens has been allowed to get into such disrepair.and I genuinely fear for it re opening after what we’ve now been told is happening .
    Surely the problem with the roof directly over the stage surely would have been seen long ago ,so why wasn’t anything done about it ?
    It was very sad to see Comic Rob Brydon on last weekends Jonathan Woss (Lol) show complaining about playing a venue on the south coast recently on his tour and that when he opened the door to the theatre that he was knocked back by the strong smell of damp .
    Brydon continued to add that when he opened the door to the dressing room that the smell of damp was even worse !
    He finished by saying worst was yet to come when he went on stage and was taken aback by the strong smell of damp and the extremely poor state of the roof ( which he emphasised) that was directly over him on the stage .
    This isn’t a laughing matter !
    Rob Brydon didn’t go as far as to naming the theatre but when he added at the end of this story , that this theatre on the south coast was shortly closed after his visit there , the clues were there !
    Anybody who knows about or loves the Winter Gardens will instantly recognise that Brydon was referring to our local unloved theatre .
    So now after that , Margate Winter Gardens is the laughing stock of the country !

    What I’ve never understood about Margate Winter Gardens is why more bigger bands or singers don’t play there ,especially when we DO get major artists like Madness,Paul Weller , Blur ,Stereophonics , Simple Minds ,The Specials ,Kasabian , I could continue ……. They get Sold Out as local people WILL and DO support going to see big stars .

    Maybe Peter C ,with your knowledge of the Winter Gardens can explain why we don’t have more top bands playing at WG ?
    Especially as they will get local support ?

    Btw.The problem with the Winter Gardens changing rooms isn’t recent because I can remember Status Quo playing here several years ago in the early 00’s and Francis Rossi said (with a fee expletives ) what he thought of the changing room and Quo never played here in Margate again after that experience,which is a shame as I’m sure they’d sellout tickets if they did .

    • I don’t know much about how people are booked (I was just a doorman), but I do know that the excellent entertainments manager sometimes managed to get big names to do “warm up” gigs for tours/festivals there, maybe at a reduced fee?

      Unfortunately I agree with others in that I can see this joining The Lido as a crumbling wreck never to reopen, though of course I’d love to be proven wrong!

    • Margate must be the only seaside resort to neglect it’s traditional entertainment venues.Other towns thrive and invest in their assets.Shame on TDC to allow such long term lack of maintenance.😥😥

    • Winter gardens is beyond repair, its dreamland or TC that gets our taxes.

      Thanet has put all its eggs in the arty society and dreamland. Dreamland is now the new place for bands it would seems.
      The last time I went was to see Jason Manford and the place was so run down I was surprised he even played the WG.

    • You just know anything that thanet council shuts down for a short period of time never opens again . Just look at the history of thanet ,

  5. I,m perhaps thinking that Dreamland stage has taken alot of live performances away from the winter gardens .
    However the Theatre Royal is fantastic ! And hopefully will keep going.

    • Hi Dave , I too love the Theatre Royal ,but alas that too is in need of serious TLC
      Things have been like this for years with this venue
      I saw comedian Andy Parsons there recently and even he made a quip about the current poor state of this beautiful theatre .
      It would appear that going on both comedians Rob Brydon and Andy Parson that Margate is getting a really poor reputation in the entertainment industry for its theatre venues

      • If we have to choose between the two then I believe it is the Winter Gardens that should be saved (smaller events can take place in the upper Queen’s Hall like they used to when I worked there). The Theatre Royal has been a bingo hall and a carpet shop amongst other things in the past, so there is no reason why it can’t become (say) a classy restaurant or even a Wetherspoons – look at how they transformed the long-decaying building on Ramsgate seafront.

    • I think Dreamland is ok for open air concerts during warmer months but it’s not practical for other times of the year that is when Winter Gardens has the advantage
      I saw Public Service Broadcasting at Hall by the sea , Dreamland approx 4 years ago and thought that it was an up and coming and impressive venue but for reasons I don’t know about ,it’s not used as much as I would have thought .
      That is of course after taking Covid into account.

  6. How depressing.

    Why is 300k needed to appraise the needs of a theatre?

    Shocking neglect over decades and yet millions invested elsewhere.

  7. Please tell me what is inviting once you see the entrance to the Winter Gardens either from the road or the seafront entrances/exits. Retaining the character of the building inside is fantastic but the outside is terrible. My Guess is that £5m needs to be spent on a total upgrade with the building being closed for 2 years.

    Perhaps if someone would like to remove any lead this might increase the urgency.

    • I’m feeling sad and disappointed with how people feel and think of our 2 local entertainment / theatre venues
      Question : Are both the Marlowe Theatre ,Canterbury and the Leas Cliff Hall ,Folkestone run by their respective local councils ,I ask because they’re both in nice condition ?
      If so ,maybe TDC could learn a thing or two about how to look after their own venues. ?
      It’s just a thought !

      • Marlowe Theatre has been transferred from CCC to charitable status. My wife has stopped attending shows at Winter Gardens due to restricted access for her mobility needs and poor interior. Over the years, she saw no improvement/notable investment and therefore ceased to support, preferring to attend approx twenty shows at Marlowe per year. A great shame.

    • 5 million might cover professional fees over the course of the design , specification and implementation. Just a quick list

      Complete rewire
      Asbestos survey and removal
      Complete replumbed
      New roof covering
      Repairs to structure
      Internal repairs and rebuilding
      Bringing up to regs on fire and access
      Sound system

      By the time you uncover the full range of horrors lurking behind the visible deterioration , there won’t be much change from 50 million.

  8. Thats those two gone then, you can almost write it now,

    Operator steps forward , offers to improve/ rejuvenate one or both, has some cash alledgedly , needs the council to support their plans with cash, planning , help with accessing other funding. Just as things are drawing to a conclusion , they’ll announce they need the freehold to satisfy their financial backers, to ensure such a glorious success tdc agree, after its transferred things all go awry and we end up having given away just about anything worth having in margate.

    Of course seeing as the above is pretty much what’s happened at Dreamland , tdc would be a bit ( you would hope) wordly wise. However i’ll not hold me breath.

    Margate could end up as some sort of corporate theme park at this rate , be a bit pointless having a council as every decision will have been preordained by “ instagoofabamz”.com or whatever

    Really is time to get councillors to sticking the last few quid we have on black or invest in euromillions tickets.

    • I’m saddened and disappointed 😢 by the general apathy and negativity about this situation with the Winter Gardens .
      I thought more people cared about our 2 theatres .

      Dreamland might be ok for summer shows but if the winter gardens goes then the prices at Dreamland will vastly be inflated due to their monopoly ,which mainly the DFL’s could afford .

      Plus remember that both the Theatre Royal and WG are theatres ,so if they closed where would you see John Bishop, Jason Manford ,Jimmy Carr and Rob Brydon in winter months like you currently can like at WG.?
      Dreamland isn’t a theatre so can’t offer them those same facilities.

      Although I do sometimes attend gigs at The 02 ,London , but isn’t it great to see artistes like Paul Weller or Australian Pink Floyd who recently played on our doorstep at Margate Winter Gardens instead of a journey up to London and back late at night ?
      That will be history if we don’t have a more positive outlook regards WG
      Please appreciate what we’ve got …or we’ll lose it .

      • I don’t see anyone on here wanting anything but for the two to continue as council owned and run venues. But tdc have let them fall into decline over the decades and has next to no hope of finding the money to save them. The final chapter was in reality written over 10 years ago, its just not been published.

        As for Dreamland being no good as a theatre / comcert hall, don’t forget the cinema space / hall by the sea. It wouldn’t be beyond belief for an operator to move in and buy the whole of Dreamland and possibly develop a very capable multi purpose venue.

        Though if hat did happen it would most certainly be the end of. TR and WG in their current roles.

  9. Why waste £300,000 of Margate Town Deal funds on a survey / plan to see what can happen with it? This hard to come by money from the government is just being wasted willy-nilly on wasted opportunities. Instead of deciding what good to do with it (and there were plenty of good projects that could have brought good value for money), it’s being thrown away on this and Dreamland. There seems to have been little sense spoken during those meetings for this deal. We the public were consulted and gave our ideas but what do they do, throw most of it away on greedy useless businesses.

  10. As many of you posting here that are up in arms over this have been Frank and honest about your voting habits on here….. was this all part of the Tory levelling up? Will you continue to vote for them and moan when they act (or don’t act) to their MO.

    Has anyone seen Craig? Too busy moaning about any and everything whilst do nothing as usual.

    I’m fairly certain this wouldn’t be allowed in cities and towns. Your Leisure has made these pages many times on running local businesses and leisure venues into the ground. Why and how are they allowed funding over and over?

    • The funding keeps going to them because tdc are the guarantors for many of their financial arrangements and liabilities. If it folded and all those were called in as lump sums TDC would likely be bankrupt, throwing money at leisure force allows them to continue to some degree and service the debts in a manageable fashion.
      Just another of the financial failures that are on the books but hidden to a degree.

  11. £300,000 of our money to consultants to make a plan! No wonder The Winter Gardens was running at a deficit if this is how they spend money. They’d last five minutes in the private sector.

  12. Frightening to hear a Thanet Councillor on the radio this morning, talking about the Winter Gardens’ future and citing the ‘success’ of Dreamland. The ill-prepared interviewer failed to remind him that the park went bust after syphoning millions of pounds worth of grants and was then sold for a pittance. Or that it is straying ever-further from its amusement park heritage. After the £300,000 from the heavily-criticised Town Deal has been spent, can we expect the Winter Gardens to be gifted to a speculator, possibly with a wedge of ratepayers’ money to help them on their way?

    • If they’re so convinced dreamland has been such a success then, why not repeat such a winning formula for TR and WG? Hardly bodes well for the areas finances.

  13. It wants to be a bloody good plan for £300,000. Seems like a lot of money for consultants, that should be being spent on maintenance to bring the Winter Gardens up to scratch.

  14. Dreamland is surely not a suitable or appropriate venue for for music events given the impact such noise levels from these events have on residents living in the vicinity. No other council In this country would have allowed (effectively) what is a new music venue to be established in the middle of a large residential area simply to bail out a failed and failing vintage rides park . The winter gardens as a venue with its history, positioning and location effectively below street and a fair distance from residential properties is far more appropriate and more than large enough to cater for modern day music events . Although it needs considerable investment due to historical neglect , it is a heritage and potential financial asset that deserves investment.
    One however does have to raise an eye brow at the eye watering amount of money suggested to provide a feasibility study given TDC’s lamentable track record in managing the towns heritage assets.
    I like others remain fearful for future of the winter gardens particularly when the list of the town’s heritage assets squandered by TDC grows every year. If canvassed I suspect by far the greater majority of local residents would prefer the winter gardens restored to its former glory than allowing public funds to continue to be thrown at Dreamland to bail out and support an offshore hedge fund which has the resources to undertake capital projects if it so wished ie the refurbishment of the listed cinema .

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