Call for public meeting over the future of Margate Winter Gardens

Councillors Yates, Duckworth, Keen and Scobie want a public meeting

Thanet Labour councillors are calling for a public meeting to discuss the upcoming closure of Margate’s Winter Gardens.

The venue, which is owned by Thanet council, will shut from August 14 and it is planned to use Margate Town Deal funding of £300,000 to create a fully developed plan for the site.

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 feasibility study will not get under way until the closure takes effect.

Initially operator Your Leisure was to retain the lease which ran until 2024 but agreement was then made for an early surrender.

Margate Central ward councillors Helen Whitehead and Rob Yates, together with fellow members of Labour’s shadow cabinet at the council, believe widespread concerns about the venue’s future need to be explored in an open discussion with community groups and other interested residents.

Labour’s shadow cabinet member for regeneration, Cllr Ruth Duckworth, said: “The Winter Gardens has been home to The Beatles, Dame Vera Lynne, the Conservative party conference, the Labour party conference, and hundreds of community events.

“The 2,000-capacity venue has created enormous value for the local area, supported hundreds of local jobs and entertained hundreds of thousands over the years.

“Labour has already questioned the decision to divert money that had been earmarked for spending on the building to redundancy costs, which enabled the lease to current operators Your Leisure to be terminated early and we remain unconvinced that this is the right strategy for the venue.

“We have not seen any post-termination strategy documents. As far as we know, the maintenance team at the venue are to be made redundant, leaving the building to waste away, and we have seen no evidence that the council has plans to make use of it while it explores future options.

“We recognise that the venue is not in a good condition and that Your Leisure might not be the best operator in the long term. However, from our research Your Leisure have been covering their costs and it is not being shut due to imminent health and safety concerns.

“A public meeting at the Winter Gardens would allow the Conservative cabinet and senior officers to explain to interested parties why the council is acting as it is and hopefully offer some reassurance. In turn, the public can attend to show their support for the venue, and all parties can potentially benefit from increased confidence that the right decision is being made. If there is a coherent strategy behind the early closure, there’s no reason why the council can’t approach the matter transparently.”

Cllr Rob Yates

Cllr Yates added: “The Margate Winter Gardens have been serving the Kent community continually for over 110 years, except for a break during World War Two when bomb damage was repaired. It is an essential part of the county’s cultural heritage and residents have a right to know the strategy for its future.”

A decision was made by Thanet council to redistribute the £166.8k to Your Leisure to meet the potential costs associated with early surrender of the lease.

Margate Winter Gardens Photo Mike Nichols

Your Leisure’s annual rolling lease at Theatre Royal also ceased on 28 April. Staff at Margate’s Theatre Royal have formed a community events company in a bid to make sure shows continue and keep the venue open until its planned refurbishment under the £22.2million Town Deal fund.

Phoenix Community Events CIC aims to make sure shows continue to come to Margate and keep the historic theatre open until its refurbishment date – which has not yet been set.

Cllr Reece Pugh, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Economic Development said: “It’s important that we find a long term, viable future for the Winter Gardens rather than kicking the can down the road. I would like to reassure residents that no decisions about the future of the Winter Gardens have yet been made.
“We are exploring new and exciting opportunities to reinvigorate this underused heritage asset as an entertainment venue. I attended a meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Panel and presented further information on the Cabinet decision for the Winter Gardens.
“The entire process has been and will continue to be completely open and transparent and at the appropriate time will welcome the chance to engage with local residents and stakeholders as part of the ongoing process.”

A petition calling for the public meeting can be found at https://www.change.org/p/petition-for-a-public-meeting-on-the-future-of-winter-gardens

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 at the By The Sea Festival

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

37 Comments

  1. The allocation of £6m by the Margate Town Deal Board to a “creative land trust”, so that it can buy properties in Margate for creatives, makes zero sense when this legacy asset, so treasured and appreciated by the community exists. I’ve attended two events at Winter Gardens this year and was amazed by the quality of the experience and entertainment it provided. That must not be allowed to end, which closure in August is most likely to do. The MTD board can and should redirect at least £5m to this far more worthy and sustainable cause.

  2. It would be a travesty if the Winter Gardens closed for good. There is no other places in Thanet for local people to go for entertainment. I have seen a variety of shows that have been put on. It is easy for people to get to. Not everyone wants to travel to Canterbury all the time for the theatre. It is a great charismatic venue, please reconsider its future, along with the Theatre Royal, and don’t leave us Thanet residents with nowhere to go for a good evenings entertainment.

  3. People want the council to spend millions on Dreamland, millions on The Granville, millions on toilets, millions on the Winter Gardens, etc, etc. Where do they expect the millions to come from when the TDC element of council tax is less that 10p in the £1, their own costs are increasing and revenues still greatly reduced from the pandemic?

    • I think many don’t realise the Council really doesn’t get that much funding from Central Government anymore, having been phased out over the years. The majority of central funding comes from business rates.

      • I think most people are more interested in how succesive councils have manged to squander so many millions in the past years,
        pleasurama
        Dreamland
        Animal exports
        Leisure force
        Internal staff dispute spending
        Other NDA agreements
        The East Kent Housing fiasco
        Ramsgate port
        Umpteen millions spent with Paramount.

        To name but a few, using what money we have (had) more wisely might be better policy than be forever whining about what we’re not being given. The untold millions wasted over the years had they been spent more wisely would have created a much more atractive and succesful district which in turn would be less expensive to run and produce more revenues.

    • Don’t like this town it sounds.. Assets of which get sold of to

      Arrowgrass an offshore bank for dreamland.

      TDC are pathetic

  4. Will this be yet another asset that is sold off to provide funding for enhanced redundancy packages and pay-offs to senior members of staff ?

  5. More pointless political posturing , there is a plan and that’s the 300k for a professional appraisal and survey of the building and likely users. The time for a public meeting is when that’s done and there are some costed options rather than discuss pie in the sky wish lists today. As for suggesting diverting maintenance money for redundancy and staff costs, that all very well but seeing as TDC are on the hook for those staff costs where would the money come from instead ? And what real good would the relatively small amount of cash do for a building with no defined future and in need of many millions to make it fit for a decent future.

    • Ironically Cllr.Scobie publicly supported Homer who is the very cause of all you list. The problem in Thanet is our councillors who have been complicit in everything bad in Thanet. Watch them all come out of the woodwork as elections loom next year. Don’t be fooled the area has declined under their watch. We must never vote for these Tory and Labour councillors again.

  6. LC your logic and posts are all over the place. You seem angry and against everything and anything. You seem to think your taxes pay for everything and you take nothing out yourself.

    You’d have everyone everywhere sacked apart from you. You want no investment and you are annoyed at wasted money. You don’t want any planning or pre planning to actually save the wasting of money but yet moan about wasting money. You constantly talk about being on the hook for this and on the hook for that.

    That is the councils whole point to provide services. It’s not “on the hook” it’s investing.

    I am no fan of TDC and how it’s run but you seem also angry when anyone questions a TDC plan.

    You seem to want no local services or investment.

    Apart from, I guess, stuff you use.

    That’s not really how a country can work….

    “Do anything LC wants and nothing else”

    • Read what i write properly, without doubt i’ve no time for waste. The momey thrown away on the animal exports farce alone would have been sufficient to keep the districts public toilets in good order and save the theatre royal.
      I’ve lost track of how much public momey has gone into Dreamland only for the council to have its leg lifted at every juncture to the point that now its totally outwith the areas control aside from planning and licensing.
      I’ve never raised objections to housebuilding, in the absence of limiting the countries population we need homes, its thanets turn to find space for some.
      The lack of investment is the root of thanets woes , can you point to a successful tdc investment?
      Port ramsgate , a commercial lease which apparently means we need to spend millions for want of not maintaining and budgeting for the lease properly.
      We’ve sold off or given away just about everything. Including newgate gap shelter to a group fromted by a 3 time convicted criminal and the site is hardly a picture of awe and wonder. We have a proposed skate park where the group behind it advertise they have a website about the project but there is no such thing , but hey we’ll alocate 800k.
      Those trying to gentrify cliftonville point the finger at anything other than local residents who just don’t conform to societal norms and were quite happy in their little world until those seeking to change things arrived.
      The new cliftonville playground only built because we were given grant money and seemingly the best way to use it is to replace a relatively new facility again apparently found lacking for want of maintenance.
      Granville , another building allowed to deteriorate over decades and now to be disposed of by a strange process at the moment, i’d not be surprised for the KFF to get it under a cosy deal.
      Does anyone say TDC has a properly functioning management? Try talking to some officers and see what moral is like.
      Politically all parties have failed the isle but rather than try to work together and find a sensible way forward we get endless bouts of point scoring that achieve nothing.
      We had the motorcycle event on the beach, something a bit different and for two days only, we get a group wanting it banned for the damage it may cause to microbes. Where’s the give and take.
      Personally all i want tdc to do, is get the basics right first and once its learnt to walk think about jogging.

  7. Don’t let it close then! If TDC close it, that will be it, done for forever.
    MH has proved her incapability of remaining CEO. The Report proves this beyond any logical doubt. She should go before any final decision is made about anything and everything in Thanet.

  8. It’s always 90-100% full when I or my family go to events there. How can it not be at least breaking even!

    • I totally agree with you Johnny .
      I’ve long thought that whenever we get a top band / artist / comedians coming to play in Thanet , that the public in Thanet on the whole come out in their large numbers to see them ,which then brings me on to , as that’s the case why aren’t more big bands playing at Winter Gardens , in a similar way that they do at a similar seaside venue like De La Warre Pavillion , Bexhill on Sea which has some amazing diverse concerts there for most tastes in music
      That venue also had major structural problems and “rose like a phoenix out of the ashes” and look at it now .
      Have a look to see who’s playing there over the coming months , why can’t we have this in Margate ?

    • I agree Johnny, but I think the big problem is that the actual buildings have had decades of neglect. The costs of repairs are far beyond any profits from shows.

      A couple of weeks ago, I went to The Leas Cliff Hall in Folkestone. It is 95 years old, yet it still looks immaculate. It made me even more sad about Margate’s theatres imminent demise.

      • I agree that Folkestone Leas Cliffs Hall has been well maintained which raises the ugly question why wasn’t the Winter Gardens well maintained over the decades ?
        I made the comparison with De La Warre pavilion at Bexhill on sea , mainly because like Margate Winter gardens it was allowed to get into a state of needing major repair .
        Being a listed Art Deco design the refurbishment wasn’t going be easy or come cheap either yet if you look at it now it’s a beautiful stylish building inside and out and unlike Folkestone Leas Cliff hall , it has a fuller programme and bigger bands playing there on a regular basis .
        It also has good acoustics .

        • I can’t comment on more recent times, but when I worked at The Winter Gardens (2007-2011) they had a very full programme with some big names, including The Stereophonics, Kasabian, Paul Weller, The Specials, JLS, McFly, Ocean Color Scene, Billy Ocean, The Real Thing, Jools Holland and many, many more (not all to my personal tastes!). It was also used most non-show days for big private functions, freemasons dos, charity concerts, etc. I guess part of the problem is that a few of these bigger names now play Dreamland instead.

          I’ve never been to that venue in Bexhill, but another nearby place that is immaculate of course is The Marlowe (though don’t have many Rock shows there, though I did see a great concert by Joe Brown just weeks before the start of the pandemic!).

          • Peter ,Marlowe Theatre agreed is a nice theatre but it’s a new build so isn’t in disrepair like WG and don’t know if you are aware that there’s been 3 Marlowe theatres in Canterbury since the 70’s .
            The original one which I remember was in St Margaret’s Street , where HMV Canterbury is now situated .
            The 3rd and most recent rebuild in 2009 took over 2 and a half years , my point being ,
            let’s not kid ourselves that any refurbishment for our theatres is going to be either quick ….or cheap !
            The biggest hurdle that I can see going on the comments and rants on here , is for there to be a general consensus agreement about the future of WG and TR .
            I accept not everybody will be happy with the possible final outcome .
            Please let’s stop the squabbling and petty digs at various people using this platform and let’s all come together focused on reclaiming and being proud of our local 2 theatres.

      • Peter.. Who’s fault is that

        Assets.. Left to rot

        Your leisure are useless at managing its like giving them money

        I do know your leisure owe tdc money they borrowed it

        Does this sound familiar.. Same draconian councilors running a punch and Judy racket.. No he did it no she did it..

        TDC are in debt… Who is to blame HOMER

        • It was allowed to rot decades before Your Leisure and Homer (and when I worked there it was managed by a different company, who I know did the best they could within their limited resources).

  9. I’m not interested in the political mud slinging / scoring points about these 2 important venues .
    I just want at the end of the day to be able to continue in the future to attend concerts / shows etc locally in Thanet instead as someone else has commented having to travel to Canterbury , or London to see the bands I want to see .
    I think with the figures being banded about that it would be a positive thing if Joe Public was democratically consulted about the futures of these 2 theatres with the prime objective that at the end of the day we still have these 2 working theatres
    I’m under no illusions that a lot of work will be required to improve the buildings but please don’t leave us without a theatre in Thanet to see top shows/ concerts .
    I’m not sure at the moment how much the public are aware of how much we are at risk of losing these venues
    We need to speak up before it’s too late .

    • Unfortunately it is too late, as pointed out in other posts the buildings ave been allowed to deteriorate ( for want of a decent ongoing programme of maintenance, repair and improvement ) for decades to the point that they are now unsafe and unfit for purpose. Putting that right is beyond the financial and imaginative capacity of tdc. By all means have a meeting but it’ll only result in people wanting it returned to its former glories with modern facilities , just look at the money spent recently on the turner centre that was only a decade or so old. Wintergardens needs at least 10 million and thetre royal 3 to get them anywhere close to wha they should be AND a budget and programme for future maintenance. The winter gardens may well be found to be effectively beyond saving.
      TDC has a history of such lack of care, look at Royal Crescent in ramsgate , neglected to the point of needing huge amounts spent on it, money that will be conjured up from somewhere but never be covered by the rents and leasehold bills ( the latter apparently being told they won’t have to pay till they sell so effectively they can never leave and live in worthless homes, so the council foots the bill rather than end up in court arguing over wether its allowed the building to fall into disrepair, luckily for the council the tennants can’t afford the legal fees).
      Add to the list the Granville, Old Margate Town Hall, Ramsgate Museum, thanets public toilets , the lifts, port ramsgate the list is probably endless .
      The decades of neglect has finally arrived at it moment of reckoning. Theatre royal has the town deal award but needs a commercial partner, wintergardens will get the survey and appraisal done , but will need commercial partners at some point.
      Their loss would rip the heart out of thanets performance and events capacity, it also leaves the Dreamland site with the cinema etc as an open goal for anyone with the cash willing to step forward and take the project on , it could be up and running well before anything happens to WG or TR , if that were to happen , wher would there be a future for them. It has to be hoped for the sake of Tr and Wg that dreamland stays as it is eather than be a competitor. Which is such a sad state of affairs to have arrived at.
      Folkestone had the Saga effect and the enthusiasm and drive ( plus money) of Roger De Haan, does thanet have an equivalent? Lurking in its last chance saloon

  10. This is a great venue and it needs to be supported. If it closes for even a short period it will be difficult to reopen and soon it will be like the Lido. Can Margate afford to lose one of its big assets if it wants to attract more visitors?

  11. The problem with a Public Consultation is that the Public will largely have unrealistic and nostalgic ideas about what should happen to the Wintergardens.
    It’s all very well remembering the good old days of packed houses, but the question is what to do now, with a view to sustaining the place for the next couple of decades.

    • Packed Houses aren’t just the stuff “the good old days”. As myself and others have already said, these still happen today.

      You really need to get out to shows more, Ms. Stein.

        • I can’t stand them myself (and incidentally, for my forthcoming book I interviewed a member of an 80s all-girl band who claims that the Pet Shop Boys were really horrible to them).

          • Thanks for your constructive comments . NOT !
            I now won’t be buying any of your books that you shamelessly plug at any given opportunity !
            Especially when you promote it with tittle tattle from a nameless girl band that most likely hasn’t sold anything like the amount same of records as Iconic Pop duo Pet Shop Boys .

  12. The problem I have always found with the winter gardens is the lack of staff.

    More or less impossible to get a drink in the interval. Couple of hundred people wanting a drink and two bar staff

    • Occasionally when I worked there they’d open both bars on each side of the main theatre. I guess they’ve had to cut back on staff (either that or one of the bars is in a state of disrepair!). Fortunately, I usually only want an ice cream.

  13. I saw Australian Pink Floyd when they played Winter Gardens on their last tour ( Btw..Great show hope they can return to WG one day ) and I couldn’t believe that there was only 2 people serving on the bar ?

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