End of a 13 year journey as Ramsgate youth charity Project MotorHouse shuts down

Project MotorHouse founder Janet Fielding with Royal Harbour youngsters at the Fantastical Worlds exhibition

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.

Janet Fielding (right) and Sophie Aldred in a special Dr Who episode Photo BBC Studios/James Pardon

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.

Photo via PMH

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.

Photos PMH

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.

Photos PMH

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.

Guy Holloway design

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.

Guy Holloway design

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.

Treasures Photo by Sam Beard

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.

Fantastical Worlds

“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.

Brenda Blethyn and Royal Harbour pupils unveil the PMH hoardings project in 2017 Photo by Rachel Wilberforce-Andrews

“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

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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


  1. A huge thank you to Janet, Jo and everyone else involved in delivering PMH. So many young people have been able to benefit. The arts are so important and youth services have been cut to the bone. It’s a great loss to our community. Thank you for working so hard to deliver the ‘good stuff’!

    • But if i’ve read the article correctly none of the activities occurred within the building, all that was actually done was the preparation of reports and inspections that led to a group with lofty ideals wanting free money to make their dreams come true. Any arty type projects attached to the PMH name occurred elsewhere.

      So perhaps the story could be summarised as

      Old venue, built to a long forgotten standard and probably not meant to last for ever, falls into disrepair, group with rose tinted glasses rocks up with big plans, council happily turns it over to them as it shifts responsibility, not much happens, eventually building gets sold, still nothing happens, we end up with a caluable site landbanked until such time as the deterioration gets to such an extent that something finally has to be done on safety grounds at which point the council will have to pretty much allow whatever the owner (at that point ) wants.
      But by that time , tdc can say something along the lines of “ we are where we are, past decisions may with hindsight not have been the best, efforts were made by a community group to save the building but sadly these were not achievable, as such it’s felt that the current plans are our best option etc etc etc”

      • They paid for structural surveys and work to prop the building along with other remedial stuff. They also paid for the architect, more than £300,000 was spent due to a deal being made but the structure problem remains.

        • Yes i read that, but as i said they achieved nothing in terms of saving the building or realising their dreams, the whole concept with such transfers is hardly one of success, these groups rarely have much of their own money, they seem to be wedded to the idea that having been handed or given control of an asset that it will give them a chance to have a go at shaking a magic money tree.

          The council is more than happy to enter into such arrangements as they can then say it’s no longer their responsibility. There seems to be a complete lack of due diligence by the council in their haste to offload problematic assets.

          We can all say well done for trying , but it just helps perpetuate the same failures.

  2. did you know the rolling stones once played there = bla bla bla , whats that got to do with october 2022 ???

  3. just thought mick jaggers got more money than he knows what to do with – ask him to do it up – they once played there – dont you know

  4. So yet again we have to thank Thanet District(TDC) and Ramsgate (RTC) councils for their intransigent attitude for the benefit of Ramsgate and Thanet residents as a whole. TDC can waste thousands on court cases…too many to mention. RTC can waste thousands on backing a private individual for a JR for Manston Airport yet neither see the benefit for the community. Regretfully the Winter Gardens in Margate could be one of the next followed by the Theatre Royal. Why do TDC sell residents ownership of commercial buildings below market value. Why do RTC throw money at a JR that potentially could fail. Do we have competent councils and members. ?

  5. Four years since it was sold and nothing has happened. Except further deterioration. Yet again, so short-sighted of TDC. No doubt the new owner is waiting for it to collapse and will then apply to build housing to which TDC will happily agree.

  6. Just leave everything to rot then board it up Thanet Council until eventually it is sold off for peanuts. Once it’s gone it’s gone and no more funds will be put into the TDC bank. Why wasn’t funding applied for that could do up all these historic premises in Thanet like happens in other areas? The funding they do get mysteriously disappears into private companies and nothing is ever to show for it. Typical Thanet for you, the cesspit of the UK.

  7. Isn’t it strange how readers focus on different aspects of a story? The charity provided opportunities for local youngsters to experience something new and enjoyable, over many years, despite it’s original business plan not being viable. Well done to all involved.
    Local charities are really stretched now and there will be more closing, as HomeStart Thanet has, after over 30 years supporting local families.
    Despite the history of the building being interesting would the costs of restoration really help local people in the 2020s?

  8. Again more people living in thanet for 10 months fresh from brixton(Yorkshire village really) thinking they can apply for funding. They get an initial sum and spend it on their local music studio. Which funnily enough is run by some other DFLs set up by, you guessed it Art funds.

    I’m looking forward to the day someone truly local setsup something for the kids in the area, not some massive renovation to line their pockets and spruce up the new ramsgate holiday home.

    It’s shut down because they didn’t get the payouts they originally presumed would come their way.

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