Wilderness to Wonderland: The Margate gardening project revitalising community spirit

Rory and volunteers dig in to make Margate beautiful Photo Steven Collis

By James Bonthron

The Wilderness to Wonderland project in Margate started from humble beginnings, when Rory Waitt noticed that his area of Westbrook needed a bit of a tidy up.

Along with his wife Joanne, Rory ‘s attention then turned to the promenade.

As the new group gained traction the volunteers who make up Wilderness to Wonderland worked on several neglected spaces in Margate and transformed them, promoting the environment as well as the community.

Photo Steven Collis

Rory created the project partly as a result of his belief in communities claiming responsibility for their town, rather than just leaving work up to the council. After retiring from teaching, Rory wanted to spend his time doing something worthwhile and this, combined with a long love of gardening, inspired him to create the Wilderness to Wonderland project.

Rory joked that before the work, the area outside the train station was neglected, saying: “[There was] White Lightning and thistles. Welcome to Margate.”

In the high street, potted plants are coming under the attention of the group as well as the rockery next to the original Westbrook site. As the head of the popular project, Rory has been called “the garden man” by some residents  for his works.

Photo Steven Collis

The start of the project was uncertain, with Rory saying the initial donation on JustGiving allowed the group to finally afford a tool each to garden with.

Rory believes the COVID-19 pandemic led to residents re-evaluating what is important and therefore renewing their community spirit.

It took about 18 months for the group to become popular but now, gardening outings take place in the evenings and are usually host to a number of volunteers.

Photo Steven Collis

The ethos behind the project is to reclaim the areas from dereliction into sources of civic pride for locals. Indeed, the project is designed to focus on taking action locally and leading by example on how to grow stronger communities and civic pride.

Rory describes the project as; “politically neutral but spiritually rich.” He also suggests the aim is to have people coming away “walking on sunshine”. A big focus of the project is to rejuvenate Margate’s sense of pride. Rory describes the project as: “Lighting the fire of Margate’s spirit,” adding that it: “empowers residents to take care of each other, their environment and communities.”

Rory helped to re-launch Dreamland before starting up Wilderness to Wonderland.

Photo Peter Hasted (flowers planted by Wildernesses to Wonderland)

As the project organiser and planner, Rory finds his position very rewarding, saying it is the: “Best job I’ve ever had!”

He sees the group as a better way to garden than people having closed, private spaces and as such he doesn’t have a private garden at home:

He said: “[We] enjoy it more, not enjoy it less. It’s not a secret garden, it’s a community garden.” It was suggested the after-gardening gathering is just as valuable as the work because it provides a sense of community and allow people to socialise. “It’s like the village green from the Archers,” he joked.

Whilst acknowledging the dilapidated parts of Margate, the project’s aim is not to shame the town; rather it is to do the opposite.

Rory said: “It’s a poor seaside town but we have people who want to be proud. It’s a proper old place- lots of spirit and soul but no money.”

The group has a broad support base and works hard to promote inclusion, good mental health and diversity. Wilderness to Wonderland received good support with more than 80 donations on JustGiving and donations given in-person.

The group has had an array of sponsors including the Civic Society, Kent Community Fund and Southern Water. So far, two of the eight project areas currently active have been sponsored. However, the group has yet to find a local commercial sponsor. This funding gap is currently being worked on, especially since local businesses may benefit from the beautification of the area.

The group is also supported by the East Northdown and Rosemary nurseries. On Rory’s wish list are the train station itself, Dreamland, and any of the local hotels nearby. He is also focused on building relationships with Turner Contemporary, Thanet District Council and Social Enterprise Kent.

Works outside Margate train station have been joined by representatives from Southern Water and local councillors. Part of its popularity is due to its welcoming and casual nature as all levels of expertise are welcomed, and the day usually culminates in a drink and chat after.

Photo Steven Collis

The group is powered by local volunteers who are invested in making Margate a better place. This basis has allowed for great organic growth and has allowed residents to take greater ownership of the gardening spaces.

There is a diverse mix of residents at various skill levels. Rory said: “We welcome weeders, waterers, planters and planners.”

Wilderness to Wonderland volunteer group received a Southern Water grant

So far, volunteers have planted more than 3000 bulbs, which have begun to bloom. Rory is very grateful for the support of the local community, saying: “The volunteer task force is worth £40,000 a year at the moment”. The group carries out regular work parties in Westbrook at 3pm on Fridays.

Find out more via the facebook group at: https://www.facebook.com/WildernessToWonderlandMargate

James Bonthron lives in Ramsgate. The 22-year-old is in his final year of Wildlife Conservation with a year in journalism degree at the University of Kent. During his time at university, he has been spreading the word about environmental issues and trying to inform people about what’s going on locally.



  1. Well done to all the guys involved with this. T.D.C what are you doing with our money. There is a grounds maintenance within T.D.C. What are they doing?. All our open spaces are a mess. Nothing is maintained like it used to be. T.D.C G.M Staff seen to sleep in vans. They take vans home and use them at weekends. White 4×4 seen on 6th May 07.30 by hare and hounds staff in causal clothing. Our money being wasted. Yet members of the public maintain these spots for free. Come on TDC. SORT YOUR STAFF OUT…SACK THE LOT OF THEM AS NONE OF THEM CARE. What is management like. Make staff make their own way to work ..why should we pay…no one gives my fuel expenses to get to work.Isle of thanet news could be a nice story for you on the grounds maintenance budget being wasted.

  2. A way to get answers to your questions CTP is to email [email protected]
    They will be able to inform you how many people are employed to maintain our public green areas, and address your concerns, as may your local councillor.
    Volunteers: you are doing a brilliant job, and well done James.

    • Agree with you about the volenteers are doing a great job. I have raised my concerns on several occasions but nothing gets done. Regarding number of employees they have is not what I’m interested in. Its the money being wasted. Employees taking trucks/vans home and on some streets you can see 2 vans in the same street. ,staff driving to cafe’s on a Friday and yet getting paid for this and using fuel.using vans,cars and trucks at weekends when they are not working..pretty sure they won’t be insured for this.Local councillors do read this paper and hopefully some changes will be made. I’m not a busy body but just when it’s public money being wasted..that money could be used where else like the prevention of strikes that are about to take place with waste and recycling.

      • Surely there will be no strikes if you get your wish from your previous comment. T.D.C. will have sacked them all.

  3. Lovely stuff and comments should focus on the positive rather than negative here.

    Cracking work everyone involved.

  4. Wildernesstowonderland are proud to have the opportunity to work with nature to build positive communities opportunities for volunteers to engage in their environmental and promote diversity. Opportunities. Volunteers, Sponsors and Justgiving gifts always welcome. Fund raising quiz night at The Rodney June 21st💥

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