‘Clearing’ of Margate Winter Gardens begins

Margate Winter Gardens Photo John Horton

Thanet council has started to clear Margate Winter Gardens ahead of the property being marketed by agent Colliers International.

Some items removed from the building will be put up for auction although item details have not yet been specified.

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

The lease hand back came after Your Leisure faced a substantial shortfall in its income as a result of Covid with trading income down by £1.28million in 2020 compared to 2019 and outstanding liabilities in the region of £8m in terms of loans for Hartsdown and Ramsgate leisure centres.

The council, as guarantor for the leisure centre loans, could have faced extra penalties if the loans were redeemed early.

Margate Winter Gardens Photo Frank Leppard

Some £300,000 has been allocated for the Winter Gardens from the £22.2million Margate Town Deal fund for the appraisal.

The initial 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 which could not be supplied.

All options for either lease arrangements, operator agreement or sale for the venue are being kept open.

A £90,000 contract to market the site was put out to tender in the summer and is expected to run until a buyer/operator is found and engaged.

In March a report to councillors said an immediate cost of £2.5m is needed for structural , building and mechanical and electrical works with a further £3.5m estimated over the next 10 years, meaning total costs are estimated at £6.25m.

Photo TDC

The detailed marketing pack will be aimed at securing an organisation to refurbish, improve, maintain and operate the venue for uses that could include a concert hall, theatre, event spaces or leisure and tourism uses.

A Thanet council post to social media says: “We’ve started clearing the Winter Gardens today (Wednesday 8 November), to get the building ready to welcome potential operators.

“The first step is to clear the contents of the building, and remove any debris. The majority of this will be recycled in line with our commitment to sustainability and environmentally responsible practices. Our marketing agent Colliers International can then bring the property to the market to secure a long-term operator.

“Some of the items removed from the building will be put up for auction. When confirmed, details of the auction will be made publicly available.”

Cllr Rick Everitt, Leader of Thanet District Council, said: “We appreciate the people of Thanet are passionate about the Winter Gardens, and with good reason. The well-loved venue has been a landmark in the district for decades and it has a fantastic pedigree of attracting some of the nation’s favourite performers.

“You may have seen that we have started to clear the Winter Gardens of its contents. This clearance was always part of our planned activity, to prepare for the renovation process ahead of marketing the venue to potential operators, in order to bring the Winter Gardens back into use.

“We have engaged a professional contractor and council officers are overseeing the clearance process. Any items of cultural value have already been removed, and are now in safe storage. This includes artworks, posters and other irreplaceable memorabilia.

“The rest of the contents, which include miscellaneous pieces of wood, crockery and old furniture have no heritage value. The alternative to disposal would have been for the council to incur costs for remote storage of these items which are unlikely to be needed in the future.

“The majority of these items will be recycled, to ensure that the council’s commitment to sustainability and responsible environmental practices is being met. Some of the better items will be sold by auction and we will publicise details when arrangements have been finalised.

“I want to reassure residents that we are making steady progress on bringing the Winter Gardens back into full use. Our aspirations are to restore this significant heritage asset for many more people to enjoy. I have said this before and will continue to stress that we will not be using the building or the site for housing.

“There is a great deal of work going on behind the scenes, and we expect to be making further announcements next week.”

The Winter Garden seating transferred to the Granville in Ramsgate

In November last year ownership of 700 collapsible chairs from the Winter Gardens, Margate was transferred to the Granville Cinema in Ramsgate.

Thanet council agreed the sale of the seating to the Granville owners, saying: “As the building is vacant, the chairs would be vulnerable to further deterioration due to damp and moisture exposure, as well as being a potential fire risk, and further damage during future restoration works.”

Under construction 1911 Courtesy Tony Ovenden

The Pavilion and Winter Gardens took just nine months to build, costing  £26,000, and opened on August 3, 1911.

When completed the Pavilion and Winter Gardens consisted of: a large Concert Hall, four entrance halls, two side wings and an amphitheatre. Originally the stage could be viewed from both the main hall and the amphitheatre with the ability to enclose the stage in bad weather. The accommodation was for about 2,500 persons inside the building and 2,000 in the open air.

46 Comments

    • They have none-expect another 4 million to Dreamland in the near future & a couple of million to the Turner. The only reason they bothered to give it a measly 300k was to tart it up for sale.

    • Absolutely. I’m appalled at the lack of interest in keeping the building as a theatre! It’s one of the nicest and best buildings around for that job and for locals to be able to get to easily to watch shows. I can’t believe how little the local council do for the area to improve it. The area has nothing to enjoy nearby it’s no wonder kids are bored and adults are upset with outcomes and broken promises. Councillors like the money I. Their pay packets as the money is never spent properly on what it is so donated for. Disgusted , absolutely disgusted.

  1. Selling it quicker than l expected, this was Thanet Councils plan from the off ,
    Shame on you Thanet Council shame on you ,

  2. Why are they selling the ,stuff from indoors ,if they have any interest in reopening the place. Obviously TDC ,are making it harder ,for any future buyers,in opening the place.Why not flog off a few councillors,might fetch 50p ,to help

  3. Looks like it’ll be demolished and possibly new apartments built in it’s place. Who would have thought it? A seaside town without a theatre, what a joke.

  4. Don’t waste a another penny on it knock it down build a brand new theatre with a restaurant overlooking the sea.

  5. A continuation of the former motor museum in Ramsgate. Let the steel deteriorate to such an extent that it will be uneconomical to repair. Perhaps the Pavilion in Westgate will go the same way eventually. Another building left to deteriorate, formally managed by TDC for the residents of Thanet

    • The Grade ll Edwardian shelter, just along the prom from the Winter Gardens at Newgate Gap has been stripped back to bare metal beams a couple of years ago by TDC in preparation for it’s destruction by rust from the salt air and rain.
      It’s disgusting what TDC has done there too. They then put a complete rabble in charge of it knowing they wouldn’t look after it and do the repairs they promised they would. How long before it’s bulldozed? All our heritage is at risk in Thanet by a council that is inept !

      • Yes, in similar fashion to the boarded up shelter at the top of the slope from the promenade at the Winter Gardens, opposite the Britannia pub. Easier to spend money on the boarding than actually spend it on renovation, a renovation I cannot see ever happening now.

        • Lola like it’s now a campervan parking place, there’s been one there for weeks. From that shelter to Botany needs a good clean up, get the community service people onto it if they can’t pay fines.

        • If it was in Birchington or Ramsgate, money to renovate it would be raised by volunteers and local events. The Art-mob don’t care.

  6. I cannot believe this many people in the show business campaigned to keep it open now the campaigning councillors that were in opposition at the time need to sort this out no need to sell any assets which is typical of these companies TDC should have run the venue themselves like they do in other seaside towns repairs could have been carried out on a rolling programme income would have paid for this Bob Porter should be sacked for allowing this they should have produced what the government wanted in order to sort this mess out i like many of theatre lovers want this venue open don’t forget our historical theatre royal shurely thevl building is being kept warm.

  7. Any investor intending to keep it as a theatre will need hugely deep pockets and an acceptance that it will probably never make any profit on an ongoing basis.

    The building is too old, in the wrong place for a modern entertainment venue and alternative uses should be sought.

    That doesn’t get TDC off the hook for letting it get into such a bad state.

  8. What have TDC or any Local council Town or Parish council ever done to be proud o that n THANET f????? Regardless of what political party is in power. Over the years we have had a whole range of odd-ball councillors some have ended up in prison for corruption fraud theft you name we in Thanet have had it. Even the honest councillors don’t know what to say in meetings afraid of upsetting their bossy colleagues in their own party. They are all so busy jockeying for power and ego fix that thing’s like the winter gardens decisions or anything thing else that’s a public amenity just sits in their sit and rot tray.

  9. The loss of the Wintergardens will have been quietly accepted as an inevitable consequence of backing Dreamland from day 1. Dreamland is easily argued as the better facility,(greater variety of use, better parking, close to station, next to beach and town centre etc etc).
    Quite why it was never openly suggested that The Winter Gardens a d Theatre were to be sold off years ago and the funds raised used to keep Dreamland as a TDC asset , that would have modernised multiple uses, is perhaps a question that should be asked.
    But with the investemnt innDreamland and the uses it can be adapted to, there is no real future for Dreamland as a competitior for much of the same business.
    Best we can hope for is a benefactor with very deep pockets to create a rather extensive/expensive gallery with some spaces for other uses.
    Either that or some sort of billionaires bond villain coastal retreat. TDC have no will / interest or finances to do anything.

    • Try living next to it and before you say that’s your problem we have lived in this house for the last twenty three and a half years. It is run by a company that has no interest in the local community and only interested in profit.Even the police were against their extended licence but as usual TDC let them do as they want, shame on TDC councillors not fit for purpose

  10. Absolutly disgusting, Thanet is going to be so overcrowded with houses and people, with no entertainmwnt facilities available. The Winter Gardens and Theatre Royal are part of Margates history and shouls be preserved and restored. Lets face it it should not have been let to get in such a state. TDC obviously do not want to improve Thanet and make it a great place to live. So gutted this is happening.

    • Who is going to pay for these extremely expensive restorations? Who will cough up towards the on-going upkeep?
      The Council (ie you and me)?
      In the “Good Old Days” before Freddie Laker and his packaged holidays in Benidorm, folk flocked to the British Sea Side. But since the 1960’s, footfall has dropped right off. Theatres that used to perform to packed houses no longer do.
      Maybe it’s time to stop wallowing in nostalgia, and embrace reality.

      • Talk about what you know, Quot. Shows still sold out more often than not, right up until its closure (if you turned your computer off and ventured beyond the nearest Wetherspoons, you’d know this).

        • It just doesn’t add up, Checksfield.
          If the place had been making a tidy profit, it would still be running.
          Just because some events were well attended doesn’t mean that the accounts were in the black, year after year.
          A bit like Manston Airport: yes, some people used it. Maybe some people used it a lot.
          But too few people used it to prevent it from going bust.
          Same with the Winter Gardens.
          BTW, no need to be rude to my brother.

          • It failed due to lack of investment in the buildings. Your argument is a bit like saying public toilets were closed due to lack of use.

        • Making a loss even before COVID hit. Just because a venue sells out some shows it doesn’t mean it is making enough money each year to cover all of its overheads.

          If it was hugely profitable, investors would be all over it. Even TDC aren’t that dim that they can’t recognise a cash cow so if it was hugely profitable then they would have invested more in it.

          • So, Peter, just who is supposed ti invest in the building? TDC (ie, the taxpayers) or the proprietors of the business?

          • Sorry to jump on your comments but Just to put the record straight, in the two years leading up to devastation caused to the world by covid the Winter Gardens went from major losses to being virtually self sufficient. this was due to the hard work and commitment of the staff, nothing to do with the council, nothing to do with the lackluster interest of Your leisure which had been looking for an excuse to drop the gardens since vista came on board (after running their own venues into the ground). they were a leisure company that did not understand that entertainment venues are a completely different animal and cannot be run by 16 year old zero hour contract staff, but need proper trained professionals and that comes with a price tag. and beleive me even then the skilled staff at the winter gardens were only paid a fraction of what their counterparts were paid elsewhere in the industry (visiting techs would often find our wages laughably shocking) then of course TDC had there bright new shiny money pit Dreamland. how did a privately owned venue get 4 million of the margate town deal money and another 3 million went to a charity run Gallery (and what happened to the 2 million that the theatre royal was allocated for it refurbishment.) yet the venue owned by TDC for the people of the south east got nothing. if only the council were as visionary as the council that built it in 1911, they were under no illusion that it would be a massive money spinner, that wasn’t its purpose. The Gardens was built to facilitate an upcoming trend of entertainment by the sea and a seaside holiday boom. its purpose was to bring people into the town to spend their money and boost the whole of the local economy. yes, today the holiday trade has dropped off (although since covid, staycations are on the up). and even with the financial damage caused by the lock downs and the new fear of public places that had entered the thoughts of people, had the council had a little faith in the team that had virtually beaten a two hundred thousand dept into submission, had they had the common sense to do the work on the place a little at a time whilst still operational (I believe they call that investment in the future), then there would have been no reason for the old girl to shut her doors. I could go on forever, because I worked there forever and I saw first hand the lack of investment from the council, the lack of commitment from Your Leisure and the arrogance of people who new nothing about this industry playing at being in charge, all jostling and backstabbing each other just to make sure that they were still getting their piece of the pie, and if that meant throwing a whole building under the bus and stealing the heritage of an entire venue from the public to which it belonged, their arrogance told them that was perfectly acceptable. lets see where they all are in 2 years from now because I doubt your leisure will exist. it will have eaten itself from within. anyway, I think I’ve gone of subject a bit, the point was that the Winter Gardens was not the money losing white elephant everyone was lead to believe it was. If only we had a council that cared.

  11. Is anyone on this site surprised at anything this toxic council does. Selling off the family jewels. No comments from any Councillors, I wonder why.

    • It’s a shame they didn’t put as much effort into saving the Winter Gardens as they did when voting themselves a backdated 10% allowance increase.

      Shameful.

  12. Unfortunately the leadership of Thanet, have been absorbed by incompetent management hundreds of thousands of pounds flushed down the drain in legal squabbles, by staff.

    Then allowing the leisure company to offload the lease, with no penalty for the poor state of the building.

    Competence of Thanet council is beyond a joke.

    PS local councils still get a pay rise.

  13. I’m convinced that the operators of Dreamland are in on this seeing as they are getting all the gigs that would have been at the winter gardens.
    Dreamland, for those that have forgotten, was reopened after a lengthy campaign to be a heritage amusement park. Rides were supposedly being refurbished and others in storage, so where are they? The current amusement park is a joke, with a poor selection of rides and a poorly maintained scenic railway.

  14. From the photos, it looked like such a beautiful building in its heyday. However, the reality is that the heyday has passed by a considerable period, and now the venue and facilities are tired, raggedy, and considerably old fashioned. As others have mentioned, any investor will need very deep pockets to take this project on, as it needs a complete overhaul. Its a huge shame, as it could have been a wonderful venue with the right care and investment over the years.

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