Glitter, giant teddies and Sweet Caroline feature at Winter Gardens closure protest outside Thanet council

Winter Gardens protest Photo Frank Leppard

Feather boas, glitter, giant dancing teddies, Cruella De Vil and a host of show songs including Sweet Caroline featured in a protest outside Thanet council’s offices tonight (July 14).

Some 200 people attended the gathering organised by Thanet resident Jack Packman in support of a  Thanet Labour Party petition asking for a public meeting to explain the current situation, and future, of Margate Winter Gardens which is due to shut for an unspecified period of time from August 14.

It is planned to use £300,000 from the £22million Margate Town Deal fund 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 underway until the closure takes effect. However no date has been set for this.

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

Rob Yates and protestors Photo Frank Leppard

The petition was raised by Margate Central ward councillors Helen Whitehead and Rob Yates, together with fellow members of Labour’s shadow cabinet, asking for a public meeting for TDC cabinet members and officers to explain what is happening, why and share more details with the public.

Photo Frank Leppard

During the meeting Cllr Yates said the money allocated to Thanet council for the study has not been received, the procurement process to hire a consultant has not begun but the authority has already started arranging for the venue to be boarded up next month.

Photo Frank Leppard

He said: “The administration might say that no decision has been made on the venue’s future. Our response is simple, a decision has been made and that is to board it up.

Photo Frank Leppard

“This Labour group is not naïve, we know the costs associated with bringing the building up to scratch are huge, with estimates between £5m – £8m. But by failing to advertise the venue to potential investors, by failing to promote the venue, by failing to engage with specialist commercial estate agents, we are missing out on opportunities with potential operators and owners who might come in tomorrow and suggest a way forward.

Photo Frank Leppard

“You can go online tonight, you won’t find a single document advertising the building to a potential new operator or owner.”

The petition highlights that Margate Winter Gardens has been open and supporting the Thanet community for 110 years, with  the last time it was closed during World War II. The 2,000-capacity venue supports local jobs and has entertained hundreds of thousands over the years.

Photo Frank Leppard

Cllr Yates said: “As Thanet battles to revive tourism and recover from Covid, the imminent boarding up of Winter Gardens is a total disaster for residents. The venue brings in high quality shows and performers, supports local schools and theatre groups, and hundreds of thousands of pounds are spent with local businesses each year because of the venue.

Photo Frank Leppard

“Residents deserve to know what the plan is for the building, why it isn’t being advertised to potential owners/operators and how long they are expected to wait until a potential feasibility study begins. This is poor management of a hugely valuable asset and the public deserve to know what is happening next to one of the jewels of Thanet’s crown.”

Photo Frank Leppard

Thanet council’s Cabinet said now is not the tight time for a public meeting and the future proposals for Margate Winter Gardens are under review.

Protest organiser Jack Packman said some 200 people turned out in “one of the best demonstrations” he had ever been to.

Photo Frank Leppard

Those backing the demonstration included Olby’s, Margate Operatic Society, Thanet Virtual High Street, Silvers, Off The Hook productions, Ralph ‘Mr Ramsgate’ Hoult and business owner/photographer Frank Leppard.

Photo Frank Leppard

Jack added: “We need to know now what their potential plans are and what they are looking to do with it. We have had over a year to sort this out so that excuse doesn’t wash with me.”

Photo Frank Leppard

He thanked supporters and said the push for the meeting would continue, adding: “We have to save this building.”

The petition will go to Cabinet members for discussion.

Cllr Ash Ashbee, Leader of Thanet District Council, said:  “The Winter Gardens will return to council management in August at which point we will be in a position to discuss our next actions. The first step in the process will be to instruct an in-depth appraisal, where experts will look at the best, most sustainable options.

“We fully recognise the level of public support that there is in the district, and beyond, for the Winter Gardens, and we are committed to including significant amounts of public engagement as part of the appraisal.

“I can assure residents that we will do everything we can to build a long-term and viable future for this well-loved local venue.”

Find the petition here


  1. And out of the “Rent a mob” how many of them actually used or cared about the Winter Gardens before the threat of closure?!.

    • Many of those there were from Margate Operatic Society and one of our local dance schools, both put on shows there. With the closure they will have no theatre to perform in if the Theatre Royal isn’t reopened

      • Whilst I’m in no doubt that most (though perhaps not all) of the people there care deeply about the Margate theatres, I wonder how many would be there if it was organised by the Tories or UKIP? How about yourself Jenny? I know Dan wouldn’t.

        I’m out of the area at the moment, but I probably wouldn’t have attended even if I was… and that’s the trouble when a protest is organised by a political party, it automatically alienates many people before it even goes ahead.

    • The answer is NONE ! Embarrassing shisters that only care about publicity for THEMSELVES.They thrive on me me me.Saddo corrupt wannabees

  2. I was there many of them were all local performers I myself have supported both venues in the town the winter gardens was used used by all of them certainly not rent a mob there is a new element in town would like to see the gardens replaced by flats.I was there as a supporter of the stage magazine to promote the show must go on.

    • Theres the problem !

      “I was there many of them were all local performers”

      Of course they want to save the winter gardens for them to perform.

      So take the performers out and not many of the paying public were there. Seems alot of money to spend on a few performers and 30 odd people who want to watch them 😉

      • Again, many shows still sell out at both theatres (I just checked – there are very few remaining tickets left for Jim Davidson’s appearance next week!). It is Art that attracts just a small minority, not traditional entertainment.

          • He sells out everywhere (ditto Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown). Don’t judge “popularity” by how often someone appears on the BBC…

            Amusingly, Jim Davidson said on youtube that Margate couldn’t cancel him, so they cancelled the theatre instead!

        • I wasnt judging davison on the amount of appearances on the bbc more the fact he isnt funny. Saw him once at the WG back in the 80’s. Really not funny and very rude and it wasnt even his blue show.

          Each to their own but the world has moved on from davison, manning etc.

          If people of thanet think his humour is suitable for 2022 than thanet really is a sad back water

          • I’ve seen Jim several times since then (albeit when I worked at the WG), and – just like Jimmy Carr – he varies, depending on the night. The unfunniest comedian I saw whilst working there was Michael McIntyre. He barely raised more than a chuckle throughout the show.

  3. It is a travesty and embarrassment Thanet has no working theatre in good repair. Look what Cromer and Hastings achieves……

    The Theatre Royal is one of the oldest theatres in the UK. Left to rot.

  4. It makes me laugh to see the mayor of Ramsgate protesting about the winter gardens,it’s a pity she doesn’t protest for the people of Ramsgate and get the public toilets in the town centre opened again ,she is quick enough protesting for the welfare of the traverllers down the port of Ramsgate, she should start blowing her own trumpet and think of the tax payers of Ramsgate, she disgusted me

  5. A couple of questions to the organisers:

    (a) Were the theatre staff given formal invitations?

    (b) Were any celebrities invited to give their support via messages/videos? I know the left hate him, but Jim Davidson (who appears at the Winter Gardens next week) recently mentioned on youtube that the theatre is closing, and Dave Peacock (of Chas ‘n’ Dave fame) would be another possibility.

  6. Correct me if I am wrong, but don’t election counts take place there? Where will they do that instead if the place is closed?

  7. It is very sad, we have a Government that doesn’t want to be bothered running anything for us tax payers . Public building of all sorts (they have sold off £200 million worth of our Court Houses) They ARE silent irritants, they cost money. So lets in some very suable way GIVE THEM AWAY. A prime example is Margate’s Museum. At a meeting back in 2012? a leading Politian (deputy leader at the time)? goaded the audience “saying there’s no one here that could run it is there?” Underhanded tactics, of course they were, where do they get them from Tory Central Office.

    Now we have C.I.Cs popping up everywhere (non profit making, really?) (why not start a charity?) Well starting a charity is a very tiresome and time consuming effort. You have to be transparent, you have to lay yourself bare and everybody else that is connected with it and account for every penny.

    At the same time we have even more bus routes being cancelled AGAIN due to subsides being reduced by Central Government

    We could go on and on and on and be accused being political which of course it is.

    Did we spot Yasa Arafat or perhaps a relation in the crowd, red cap jacket?

  8. Brilliant turnout, all ages came together to protect thanets iconic venue. Proud to be part of the event.

  9. Eight million quid to revive the theatre is reasonable if future revenue can recoup that expense. With the best will in the world local entertainers cannot bring in that kind of remuneration.

  10. If TDC didn’t have one of the biggest ‘per capita’ housing benefit and social care bills in the country, they would easily have enough money to maintain all of the counci buildings and services.
    The sad reality is that over 40 years of decline in tourism led to nearly all of our former hotels and guest houses being turned into flats and bedsits and residential care homes. Poor people from other areas were encouraged to move here in the 80s (Costa del Dole) leading to Margate and Cliftonville becoming one of the most deprived areas in the UK.

    Now there is a slight revival in tourism but there are too few places for people to stay so we have to rely on day trippers or the few people who can afford to pay the hotel prices which are inflated due to the high demand.
    The problem is that TDC has no money and what it gets it has to manage carefully because there are so many things that require funding e.g. the roof on Hartsdown Swimming Pool which was blown off in a storm in February. The pool will not be reopening until next “early next year”.

  11. All in all it does not make sense to close both theatres at the same time. Dreamland will be obviously thriving whilst we have good weather for outdoor events. Winter Gardens needs a lot of work because the day to day maintenance has been lacking for some reason over many years.So obviously it will take a lot of time and expense to get it back to a decent standard. We don’t need “specialist” architects costing a fortune and taking ages, wasting time over unnecessary meetings. We need local input including volunteers that love the theatres, celebrity’s support that have been here and good media attention. Also the same foundations for the swimming pool,Dreamland cinema building… Margate has just been highlighted on the map by the recent filming for god sake..

  12. The theatres- and the excellent summer series shows at Dreamland- bring in 000’s of people each time it’s on, into Thanet and the spend that goes with it. We need a proper 2000 seater sized venue for all year round use. Beer Festivals, pantomime, concerts, comedians and use by local groups. Get it done and get it back open.

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