Next steps for future of Margate Winter Gardens due to be approved

The Winter Gardens is currently closed Photo Frank Leppard

The next steps for the future of Margate Winter Gardens will be discussed by Thanet council Cabinet members next week.

The Grade II listed building hosted its last performance on August 7 during the Margate Soul Festival before the lease was returned to Thanet council and the doors were shut in readiness for an appraisal report on the venue and its future uses.

Some £300,000 has been allocated from the £22.2million Margate Town Deal fund for the appraisal work. However, a report to Cabinet member reveals that the original Town Deal bid included a £4million allocation for works to the historic venue but this fell down when the government Department for Levelling Up – which issued the funding – asked for more detail on long-term plans.

The report says: “At that time the council did not have a long term plan, or an understanding about all the costs. With limited funds in order to progress the required information to understand the current condition of the building, be able to articulate its demand and show its financial sustainability and viability, the Margate Town Deal Board changed the request for funding that could support this work.

“The Margate Town Deal Board also needed to reprioritise the projects due to the offer from central government being lower than the funding asked for (which had been £29m).”

Photo Frank Leppard

Currently, the site is ‘boarded up’ with security measures including screening and fencing in place on and around the building.

The measures have meant additional costs to the council of £56,270, excluding callout costs and Facility Management Officer time as keyholders. The council also expects to pay £26,000 in utility costs that were previously paid by previous tenant Your Leisure and statutory compliance and mechanical and electrical servicing costs of £108,000.

Security measures include twice daily patrols and full external patrols plus weekly void property inspections to check for damage or theft, squatters, or evidence of illegal entrance.

The report says the temporary closure does carry risks of further deterioration to the external and interior structure , including water ingress, fire, vandalism, theft, squatters, and trespassers, and 3rd party liability.

Photo Frank Leppard

Steps are now due to be taken to commission experts to complete a costed structural survey; commission a complete set of drawings for the site; identify all legal requirements and commission a team of consultants to review the night-time economy in Margate and the Winter Gardens role in that.

The report adds: “This first phase of studies will help inform the Council in order to go out to the marketplace to understand the interest for a leisure provision in the Margate Winter Gardens for the future.”

The Margate Winter Gardens has been open and supporting the Thanet community for 111 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.

The building is owned by the council but was leased to Your Leisure from November 1999 until this month. Initially Your Leisure was to retain the lease which ran until 2024 but agreement was then made for an early surrender. Your Leisure’s annual rolling lease at Theatre Royal also ceased on 28 April.

The report to Cabinet members says the site needs ‘significant refurbishment.

Photo Frank Leppard

It says: “Changes in the way people use entertainment venues and their expectations on what they want from a venue, and a lack of funding to be able to deliver improvements, has seen the offer at the Winter Gardens decline over the years.

“Requiring significant investment and some repurposing of spaces to support its sustainability and viability, the council has needed to bring back the building in order to put a plan together for its future.

“At this time, neither Your Leisure Kent Ltd or the council have the capital investment required to refurbish the building in order to ensure its sustainability. The council is clear that there is a need to seek a commercial partner and a long term operator for the Winter Gardens to safeguard it for the future.

“There is a significant case for change, as it currently stands the venue does not make enough money to cover the running and maintenance costs for this large, listed building, or the ability fund the significant refurbishment costs required.

Margate Soul Festival was the last gig at the Winter Gardens before it closed Photo Frank Leppard

“It needs a new vision, investment and a new future. The Winter Gardens is a significant asset in terms of size and community interest in the heart of Margate and Cliftonville, it provides an opportunity to add to the economic opportunity, and reduce the reliance on tourism.

“The ambition for this small revenue project, as part of the border Margate Town Deal, is that success for the Winter Gardens site will help to diversify the local economy, enabling it to be more sustainable and resilient.

“Commissioning a night time economy strategy will review the role of the Winter Gardens in Margate/Thanet/Kent’s night time economy, and consider its potential future role and what it needs, in Thanet, in order to be successful for the local area. This strategy will provide an opportunity for residents to identify how they may use the Winter Gardens in the future.”

Cllr Ash Ashbee, Leader of Thanet District Council said: “With the Winter Gardens back under council management, we are in a position to determine the best future for the venue. “It is vital that we understand the structural status of the building in order to determine the commercial viability in the current market. This will also be informed through engagement with people in Thanet, and further afield, to understand how the Winter Gardens would be used in the future.

“Everything that we are doing is with the best interests of the Winter Gardens as its primary purpose. We are confident that the Winter Gardens has a fully viable future ahead.”

Thanet council says it will keep people updated on progress via its website. This will include publishing

This follows a call by Thanet Labour members, including Margate ward councillor Rob Yates, for a public meeting to share information about future plans for the venue.

A petition also raised by Cllr Yates gained some 2,000 signatures – a figure acknowledged in the report to Cabinet members as highlighting “how much local people care about the building and what it potentially has to offer.”

However, the authority says publishing information online, rather than holding a public meeting, means it can be “available to view by an unlimited audience.”

Photo Frank Leppard

A demonstration outside the council offices in July, also calling for the public meeting, attracted some 200 people.

Councillors Yates, Duckworth, Keen and Scobie called for a public meeting

Cllr Ruth Duckworth – Shadow Cabinet for Economic Development – said: “Around four months ago Labour councillors started a petition, gaining over 3,000 signatures, asking for a public meeting so the public can hear what the future is for Margate Winter Gardens.

“The venue has now been closed over a month and a Cabinet meeting is to be held on 22nd September, yet we are still to see any plan with dates as to when the proposed feasibility study will begin, how long it could take, what conversations are being had with potential commercial partners, and when the venue might possibly reopen.

“There appears to be a severe lack of urgency on this topic. We recommend anyone with an interest in the venue come along in person to watch the Cabinet meeting at 7pm at the council offices. The meeting is open to the public and should also be streamed online.

“Cabinet members are expected to agree to steps including commissioning the survey, drawings and night-time economy review.”

Cabinet members are expected to agree to the next steps at the meeting on September 22.


  1. Doubt, this will reopen before 2025 if then ,tdc just wants rid of all the theatre’s around here,TDC and Your Leisure totally useless with this sort of thing,they (the theatres)should be handed to a good professional outfit,and TDC and Your Leisure not be allowed anywhere near the theatres ever

  2. We have been to many shows and events at the Winter Gardens in the past (as indeed years ago to the long gone theatre in the Lido) and feel concerned that this will just be left until any upgrading to reopen will become uneconomic. Sadly I have to cite the long closed theatre at Westgate, the old motor museum at Ramsgate Theatre Royal also. No doubt people want different entertainment now and revues and dance shows are old hat. If upgraded though it will surely attract the sort of entertainers that folk now want to see and hopefully become self supporting for maintenance and running costs. I have read elsewhere that well known starts did not want to perform there because of the condition of the awful dressing rooms. Let’s hope there will be some positivity

    • Hi Dennis , Apart from Status Quo who I mentioned in my earlier message this week about their “ Frank “
      S. Hole description of the Winter Gardens changing rooms , another more recent entertainer I.e the Welsh comedian Rob Brydon ( Gavin & Stacey) played the Winter Gardens this year and shortly afterwards went onto the prime time tv show “ Jonathan Ross Show “ to heavily criticise the Winter Gardens in every way describing how the damp smell hit him as soon as he walked into the building and followed him around the building and it was just the same in the dressing room and that the ceiling directly over the stage was in a terrible condition .that he was concerned if it was safe to perform under it
      He said all of this without saying Margate Winger Gardens by name but it was quite obvious that he was referring to it .especially as he described “ the theatre on the south coast that he has recently played at “.

  3. Could we see £1m being spent before any works are carried out. ?
    Report 300.000; Boarding up £25.270; Utility £26.000 (recovered from your leisure. ?) £108.000 Servicing costs (to your leisure) Then we have security costs + Void Property inspection costs + 3rd part Liability Costs + potential costs in loans given to your leisure.
    TDC must have have a very big pot of money unless they apply for grants.

    • The question remains as how was the theatre allowed to get into this condition I would of thought that there was a full repairing lease granted to your leisure or at least an agreed maintenance programme which could of been backed up by lottery or Central government funding. ?

  4. “However, the authority says publishing information online, rather than holding a public meeting, means it can be ‘available to view by an unlimited audience.'”…

    Why can’t they do BOTH?!

    • And stream the public meeting to an ‘unlimited audience’?
      Fear of public scrutny and accountability – local elections are coming in May 2023 so this lot need to sort themselves out!

  5. The best way to stop any building from rapidly deteriorating is to KEEP IT OPEN AND IN USE!
    I agree with DennisofMinnis (previous, above) in my concern for for this building with Westgate theatre and Ramsgate Motor Museum in mind., and The Granville being another.
    Any building will survive better if still in use, even if works are needed. Do not quote H&S here, either!

    • I agree it should be kept open and at every event should be an opportunity for the public to make a small contribution to the upkeep of the building. It is such a shame to see old venue not in use as with the Lido. I know it takes but personally I would like to see all the old venues bought back to there former glory.

  6. Oh come on now. We all know that useless TDC are planning on selling it off for redevelopment to the highest bidder. I very much doubt they have any intention of doing refurbishments of any kind whatsoever to either the Winter Gardens or the Theatre Royal

    • It would be best to sell it off rather than enter another preposterously expensive dreamland type saga that ends up with loads of taxpayers money going up the wall and nothing a tangible value left in the councils hands.
      Pity they didn’t go to the same security efforts at Dreamland , it’d have prevented all that brass wandering off. And might have prevented the interior deteriorating to the extent it has, it was also a listed building like WG.

  7. There is no point in flogging a dead horse, the winter gardens has had its day the most sensible thing is for the site to be auctioned off for development.

  8. Haine Hospital and Royal Sea bathing hospital were listed buildings it did not stop Westwood Cross developers or turning Sea bathing into housing. Winter gardens is well down the pecking order or priorities.

    • Ann just checking your posts ,one says, winter gardens should be sold off and development done to the site ,and another says old buildings should not be redeveloped which do you want ,at the moment you want both sides

  9. Haine Hospital and Royal Sea bathing hospital were listed buildings it did not stop Westwood Cross developers or turning Sea bathing into housing. Winter gardens is well down the pecking order of priorities.

    • The sea bathing hospital was never demolished and is still a listed building ,it’s use has changed that’s all,with each government labour ,conservative hospitals have been closed down some demolished some reamagined,better to be flats etc than demolished

  10. TDC should look at the De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill. That has been maintained to a high standard and attracts many significant bands. We can do this. Please don’t let it die 😥

    • JJ , I and another reader have both left similar comments on here in recent weeks with the comparison to
      De La Warre pavillion ( DLWP ) at Bexhill on sea to Margate Winter Gardens
      If Bexhill can do it ,then why can’t we have the same here in Margate ….

      • Although smaller, I was amazed at how well-preserved Leas Cliff Hall in Folkestone is when I went there earlier this year (reminds me of Margate Winter Gardens when I first went there back in the 80s!).

  11. With all the extra income from the council tax on the thousands of new houses and extra business rates from Manston airport when it reopens. Thanet council should have enough money to demolish the winter gardens and build a brand new theatre similar to what Canterbury council has done with the Marlowe theatre.

    • Only trouble with Canterbury is not much live music all seated and and not a big venue to attract bigger bands unlike other cities and expensive compared to the winter gardens seen some great bands at the winter gardens and always a great sound unlike leas cliff such a shame should have nether been allowed to get to this state as people have said it seems tdc do not like to bring in tourist to the towns who spend in the towns I’m sure that the whole site along with the lido along side will be a yuppie building site for outsider holiday homes like whitestable

  12. Peter, it’s not efficient or cost effective to keep and refurbishment will cost at least £2 million. Better for the council to take over the running rebuild and employ an entertainment team to book the better shows and acts. The last time I went there it was run down and smelt musty the carpet had more spilled beer in it than a brewery.

  13. the last time I went to The Winter Gardens to see Status Quo, a few years ago now ,and when Francis Rossi walked on stage ,he did not say hello or anything like that ,it was Thanks TDC, I see this place is still a dump(or words like that swear words ) ,nothing changes with TDC

  14. Ray, I remember Mike Yarwood being drunk on stage someone shouted out “your pi**ed” Yarwood shouted back “ yes I have to be to come here to this tip”

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