A charity which was formed 13 years ago with the aim of taking over the town’s West Cliff Hall to create an outdoor and boutique indoor cinema, a restaurant, and community space with a focus on youth, has been wound up.
Project MotorHouse (PMH), which has also worked with hundreds of young people in Ramsgate and is headed up by Ramsgate resident and former Dr Who companion Janet Fielding, currently has its last art project with Royal Harbour Academy students on display at Turner Contemporary.
The seeds of the charity began in 2009, a year after Janet moved to Ramsgate. She wanted to see the renovation of the building that had last been the Ramsgate Motor Museum which shut in 2005.
Originally the property, at the Paragon, opened in 1914 as a theatre, concert hall and promenade venue, adjacent to the Royal Paragon Baths.
It had been an Italian Garden with bandstand until the cliff was dug out to make space for the new hall. The first 40 metres of the existing promenade along Ramsgate’s West Cliff, are formed by the roof of the concert hall.
The hall has had a rich history, including being the venue for a concert by the Rolling Stones in 1964, but it has lain empty for 17 years.
Janet approached Thanet council with a proposal to bring the hall back to life in 2009 and this was when Project MotorHouse – at first called Low Carbon Community Ramsgate – was formed with a number of skilled Trustees.
The same year Ramsgate Arts held an event called Love Hate Hope: Ramsgate and Janet used the findings from that event and talked to residents of all ages to put together a business case for the site.
In July 2010 Low Carbon Community Ramsgate (Later Project MotorHouse) presented its first draft business plan to Thanet District Council, making the case for the building being self-supporting. Residents and local students set to work clearing up the gardens at the site.
In November of that year Thanet council and Project MotorHouse set out a Heads of Agreement. In September 2011 the council agreed the asset disposal to Project MotorHouse and specialist legal advice and negotiations with TDC on the detail of the Option and Transfer Deed followed.
In January 2013 a Dr Who fundraising event with David Tennant, Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker and Paul McGann takes place. Dr Who fans fly in from as far away as Melbourne just for the weekend. It raises £32K in one day
The same year PMH begins its partnership with Ellington & Hereson School (now part of Royal Harbour Academy) and a structural appraisal is carried out at the West Cliff Hall but fails to highlight the corroded frame and its role in supporting both the West Cliff Promenade and the B2054, which is the main access road to the harbour. A further appraisal in February 2014 confirms the suspicion that the frame is now beyond repair. West Cliff Promenade is closed as the structure is dangerous in places.
The building is later propped internally but the structural safety issues remain. It is later revealed that not only is the steel frame of the building severely corroded but the outer walls were resting on wet masonry with no other support.
At the end of the year PMH appointed Guy Hollaway Architects and in April 2015 they present their first version of the designs for the theatre/cinema and restaurant. In November a second set of designs are presented and the scheme goes out to public consultation and actress Brenda Blethyn, a PMH Trustee, holds a fundraiser.
More funds are raised with a celebrity art auction in 2016 but in July 2017 Thanet council agrees to sell off the property at public auction.
Ms Fielding predicts the site will remain empty unless TDC commit money to safeguarding the road and the promenade properly and accuses the authority of kicking the problem into the long grass.
In October 2018 West Cliff Hall is sold at auction for £225,000 – more than double the guide price. However, it still remains empty and unused.
During the time spent on the West Cliff Hall plans PMH also worked with young people on a number of art projects – primarily photography – which have been featured in galleries and outside along Ramsgate harbour and seafront. Last September PMH and Royal Harbour students exhibited Treasures – portraits of the community volunteers on boards opposite the Arch Bar with QR codes linking to interviews on Ramsgate Radio.
The latest exhibition – Fantastical Worlds – was on show at Ramsgate’s the Wooden Box Gallery before being installed in Turner Contemporary’s ‘warm bank’ room in the Clore Studio. It remains on display until January 8.
Janet said: “We closed on October 10 and I am just doing the final winding up now. It is a real challenge for charities to raise core costs and I was subsidising things and reached the stage where I couldn’t continue.
“We were offered less than half the money we had applied for (in grants) because everyone is stretched. People can’t pay for heating and food, we have to prioritise the essentials, so the funding climate is unfavourable.
“Project MotorHouse raised a lot of money and we spent it on preparing the building, reports, project manager, architects, public consultation because we had a commitment from the council and then they sold the building. All that money raised became dead money. It’s just not possible to raise it all again for an alternative premises.
“We worked with a lot of kids over the years and did online projects during the pandemic. The Ramsgate Arts Barge will be taking over the youth projects.”
West Cliff Hall
July 1914 – The West Cliff Hall and Gardens opens to the public as a concert hall on the site of the Italian Gardens. On a sunny day, the concerts were held outdoors in the sunken gardens.
1914 – 1918 – Despite repeated bombardment from Europe and the nearby placement of a Maxim gun, the West Cliff Hall survives.
1920s – The hall is a popular concert venue with townsfolk and visitors alike.
1930s – The building is extended thus widening the Promenade. A one storey extension is also added. It ruins the elegant Edwardian lines of the original building.
1940s – During the World War II, dances are held in the hall for the pilots based at Manston Airport.
1950s – The old Victorian baths next to the West Cliff collapsed down onto what is now the port. It was only the quick thinking of a local woman that there was no loss of life. She noticed the road cracking and stopped all traffic.
1964 – The number of local people who saw the Rolling Stones play at West Cliff Hall could fill the building many times over.
1970s – The original seafront terrace was extended to its current size which is approximately 600 square metres.
1980s – Two brothers from Essex take over the lease and turn it into a Motor Museum.
2005 – The Motor Museum closes.
May 2009 – Janet Fielding first approaches Thanet District Council (TDC), the owner of the building, with ideas to bring it back to life
September 2011 – TDC Cabinet agree the asset disposal to PMH
November 2013 – TDC and PMH sign the Option and Transfer Deed
February 2014 – Project MotorHouse organises a structural appraisal which confirms suspicion that the frame is now beyond repair. West Cliff Promenade is closed as the structure is dangerous in places.
2015 – Guy Hollaway’s team present their designs for the cinema and restaurant conversion.
July 2017 – West Cliff Hall agreed for asset disposal (sale) by Thanet council
October 2018 – West Cliff Hall sells at auction for £225,000
2022 – The property remains empty and unused