Plans submitted for eco-park, cafe, bar, wellness garden, outdoor gym, shipping containers and fencing at The Oval Bandstand and Lawns

The Oval Bandstand Photo Frank Leppard

Plans to create a ‘coastal eco-park,’ indoor café and events bar, wellness garden with outdoor gym, greenhouse, shipping containers for five food and drink retail units and perimeter fencing at The Oval Bandstand and Lawns have been submitted to Thanet council.

The part retrospective application by GRASS Cliftonville CIC also includes plans for covered outdoor seating areas, wildflower meadows, mini forests, interpretation and notice boards, bike racks, bins, bollards, seating and a boulder water feature.

In planning documents the changes are outlined as:

  • The bandstand amphitheatre project, which also features The Oval Pavilion,  will revitalise the 130-year-old sunken amphitheatre with improved facilities. The plans involve constructing an improved pavilion that includes a cafe for the community, offering training and job opportunities, better toilet facilities, and an events bar.
  • Changes to the steps to enable people to move around more freely
  • Two new 20ft shipping containers and one new 10ft shipping container at the bandstand amphitheatre, in addition to the 20ft storeroom already present on-site. The containers will be for five new retail units for local food and beverage businesses and will be equipped with electricity and a water supply and will be connected to the wastewater drainage system. Inspired by the success of Ellington Park, one of these units is earmarked to become a community bookshop.
  • Raised planters, recycling stations with  signage, a fence either side of the pavilion covered in climbing plants, and a  decked terrace with picnic tables
  • A new boundary fence enclosing The Oval amphitheatre which will be 1.8m high and designed to deter people from climbing over.  It will be constructed using temporary Heras fence panels painted black, and supported by fully demountable steel scaffold posts, Temporary permission is aimed to run until the end of 2026. An application will be made for permanent fencing to continue after that point.
  • Covered areas at the north and south gate entrances, around the kiosk, and along the top terrace on the eastern side of the amphitheatre. These spaces will feature waterproof canvas solar sails attached to galvanised steel poles
Wrestling at The Oval Bandstand Photo Mat Raven

Planning documents say: “The current tiled exterior of the pavilion is severely damaged, with numerous missing sections and spots filled with screed with drawn lines mimicking tile pattern.

“Our plan involves sourcing replicas of these tiles to restore the structure’s exterior. Additionally, we aim to create new door and window openings within the building’s structure, repairing these openings using the replicated tiles to maintain consistency across the facade.

“As security is a concern at The Oval, these openings will be safeguarded using surface mounted roller shutters painted in a colour to match the brown tiles, ensuring both functionality and aesthetic continuity.

“Inside the pavilion, we’re planning a new layout to maximise the limited space and enhance its functionality. This includes reorganising entrances to the toilets, combining male and female cubicles into one room to create non-gendered facilities, and setting up a separate urinal room to prevent queues forming during busy times.

“Space previously used by the underutilised toilet layouts has been transformed into an events bar, supporting our various free community events. The old storeroom will become an indoor community café, ensuring our presence on site throughout the year, not just during the summer season.

“Our storage needs have been met by using the existing shipping containers located in the auditorium and gardening area. The café aims to accommodate indoor seating for about ten people and outdoor seating for dozens more.”

Outdoor cinema at The Oval Lawns Photo John Horton

On plans for the wellness garden, GRASS say: “The goal of the Wellness Garden is to foster the physical, mental, and spiritual restoration of local people and visitors by providing a series of garden spaces connected by paths to create a tranquil and sheltered environment. The garden can be seen from private residential properties that overlook The Oval and will offer respite for many residents who do not have access to outdoor space.

The Oval’s Wellness Garden will have many special features to ensure it is a vibrant and engaging ‘Garden of the Senses’:

  • Manicured lawn for wellness classes.
  • Winding pathways to create a sense of discovery.
  • Bird friendly water features.
  • Bug and bee hotels.
  • Seating to enjoy the surroundings.
  • Meditation areas.
  • Lighting to elevate the scene.
  • Scented flowers.

An outdoor gym area will also be included if funding is secured with gym equipment and a proposed programme of wellness and fitness classes.

There will be a new boundary fence enclosing the Wellness Garden, 1.2m high and designed to deter people from climbing over. It will be a spiked black steel railing.

Photo Frank Leppard

The most significant alteration to The Oval involves the installation of a fence around the amphitheatre. The application says this is to “safeguard the site during the night-time and shield it from vandalism and other disruptive activities that have plagued The Oval since the concrete fence and wooden gates that fully enclosed the amphitheatre were removed in the 1990’s.”

The new fence panels also serve the dual purpose of supporting CCTV cameras, safety lighting, 200 meters of decorative festoon lighting and bunting, signage, and waterproof solar shades over seating areas.

Explaining the reason for the amphitheatre fencing, planning documents say: “Over the past two years we have encountered numerous incidents of anti-social behaviour at The Oval Bandstand, including daily instances of broken glass in the auditorium. We have also been faced with the unsettling presence of ongoing drug dealing at various times of the day, as well as groups of young individuals engaging in vandalism, such as breaking up the concrete paving and using the pieces as projectiles to cause significant damage to the bandstand.

“Additionally, we’ve had to address many separate incidents of graffiti, one of which resulted in significant damage to the paving beneath the bandstand. Moreover, there have been instances of prostitution, along with two fires that occurred under the bandstand, posing a significant safety hazard. Furthermore, multiple cases of drug abuse have been observed on the premises.

“The installation of a fence will significantly mitigate these challenges by establishing a clear perimeter, reducing unauthorised access, and enhancing overall security. This measure is essential to ensure that The Oval remains a safe and enjoyable venue for all, in alignment with our licensing obligations, event management objectives, and 5-year business plan submitted as part of our successful bid for the community asset transfer of the site.

“Since this application pertains to temporary fencing and gates, our plan is to substitute them with a permanent, architecturally fitting replacement once the temporary planning permission expires in 2026.”

Photo Frank Leppard

The main lighting focus will be on the amphitheatre aimed at improving safety for visitors at events while minimising the potential for accidents. To minimise disruption to wildlife, lighting within the amphitheatre will be on timers set to turn off before midnight, and lighting on the lawns will be limited to existing KCC lamp posts. Low level security lighting will be used within the wellness garden and outdoor gym.

GRASS documents  include noise management and fire safety plans for the site and varying ways of using the amphitheatre space for shows and events.

GRASS say: “In conclusion, the proposed project for The Oval Bandstand & Lawns is a testament to GRASS Cliftonville’s commitment to creating a space that not only enhances the physical environment but also enriches the social fabric of our community.

“The positive outcomes of this project are many and varied, underscoring the need for planning approval. The inclusion of a gym and wellness garden will undoubtedly have a significant positive impact on the health and well-being of local people. Already, The Oval has had a positive impact by providing jobs for young people within our community over the past two years. This is not merely about transforming a physical space; it’s about investing in Margate’s future, providing training to the youth in our community.

“With the acceptance of this planning application, we are poised to grow as an organisation and expand our positive influence.

“The provision of outdoor covered spaces and a safe, secure bandstand will enable us to take our efforts to new heights. It will enhance our ability to serve our community, provide more job opportunities, and foster a dynamic hub for creativity, engagement, and growth.

The Libertines gig at The Oval Bandstand Photo Frank Leppard

“Additionally, the positive transformation of the site will contribute to a reduction in antisocial behaviour, as we have seen from our previous efforts. The creation of a safe, welcoming, and engaging space has consistently proven to deter unwanted activities, ensuring a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere for all.

“Moreover, the improved pavilion will provide much needed indoor space, further expanding the range of activities and events we can host. This versatility will be invaluable, especially during adverse weather conditions, allowing us to continue providing an inclusive and thriving hub for the community.”

Opening times

The Oval’s lawns will be accessible to pedestrians around the clock, throughout the entire year.

The wellness garden and outdoor gym are expected to be closed during the hours of darkness, with their operating hours closely aligned with those of the bandstand amphitheatre.

October – March, Wednesday – Sunday, 9am – 5pm

April – September, Monday – Sunday, 8am – 9pm

A decision on the application is yet to be made. It can be viewed on Thanet council’s planning portal, reference F/TH/23/1614

Asset transfer and town deal funds

GRASS took over community ownership of  The Oval Bandstand and Lawns in Cliftonville in 2021 when the freehold was transferred to the group by Thanet council.

Prior to that the bandstand and lawns was used by Cliftonville Farmers Market and Cliftonville Residents Association, created by June and Keith Chadband. The farmers market started in 2001, when Cliftonville Residents Association decided to have a trial to run a food, drink and plants market for the community and is still running but is now based at Walpole Green after a row over documentation necessitated the move.

Grass (Gordon Road Area Street Scheme) Cliftonville was allocated £500,000 from the  £22.2m Margate Town Deal in 2021 to refurbish The Oval site but this was officially withdrawn last year following a row over signing a non disclosure agreement.

Project leaders Stephen Darrer and Simon Bell said they would find funding elsewhere with Stephen resigning his role on the Margate Town Deal Board, which was set up to oversee the scheme. Since then they have undertaken the project without the town deal funding.

A potted history

Thanks to Suzannah Foad of Margate Local & Family History

Margate Local & Family History

For more than a century Cliftonville’s Oval Bandstand and Lawns has enjoyed all the beloved eccentricities of British seaside culture.

The iconic swathe of coastline has staged Royal visits, revered musicians and famed comedians while model villages and grazing donkeys have all once resided here.

Previously owned by school headmaster Charles Schimmellmann the land was sold to Jacob Lewis in 1890. In 1897 a temporary bandstand was replaced with an ornate wrought-iron structure complete with landscaped amphitheatre which was surrounded by 2,000 deckchairs for music lovers

Keeping the surrounding grass area pristine for Cliftonville High Society was donkey-keeper Benjamin Baker who use the area to graze his animals.

For the next 30 years, The Oval was the centre of Cliftonville entertainment. In 1926, improvements were made and an impressive opening ceremony was staged when the Prince of Wales, later the Duke of Windsor, opened the Prince’s Walk promenade.

Between the wars, many vocalists and comedians who played at The Oval, went on to fame and fortune. The Oval included a number of local musicians over the years. Pianists included Alex Inman in 1959 and, trombonist Jackie Wright in 1960 – who later found fame in The Benny Hill Show. Vocalists Carole Hayes and Dennis Stewart also appeared in the 1950s.

In the late 1960s and ’70s staged all-in wrestling with the likes of wrestlers Pat Roach and Big Daddy. In the 1970s there was also a model village which tourists flocked to for a chance to see miniature Margate buildings which included a Dreamland replica made by Thanet councillor Mick Tomlinson.

Work began on the models, which were scaled 1 inch to 1 foot, in 1968 and on-site in 1970. It was opened in April 1971 by the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, with a second stage due for completion the same year.

Proposals for stage two included a fishing village with boats and ferries, a quarry, watermill, school, Abbey ruins, shops, houses a fire station and more.

More than 5,000 plants were bedded in and there was even a miniature railway and illuminations at dusk. The village was located where Queen’s Court residential home is now situated.

Margate Local & Family History

Organist Tony Savage often played at the bandstand and is widely remembered by the community. In 2006 Cliftonville Residents Association raised funds to replace the original bandstand after it fell into serious disrepair.

The asset transfer to GRASS took place in 2021.


  1. Article says when the area was transferred to Grass but no mention of when Margate council l( or whatever it would have been called at the time ) aquired it. Does anyone know?

  2. Let’s hope they will pick up the grass cutting left on the pavement (slippery wen wet) and the unsightly hedge cuttings that have been left…spoils the look.

  3. lost my support when the toilets were mentioned why seperate urinals for men yet woman have to be in same cubicles as men I have no wish to share my toilets with gender neutral toilets

  4. I would prefer it remained open to all, at all times. Too many spaces have been taken away, fenced off, privatised etc. Give us back our public spaces.

  5. Oh wow, just what we need there, not !
    This is part of the Cliftonville Conservation area and should be kept original to it’s heritage. The change of looks is too much what with all the business plans in focus, retail units and shipping containers !!. It will ruin the area. Did TDC know this sort of plan would happen when it handed over the freehold? Thank goodness the didn’t receive any of the Margate Town Deal funding.
    Typical, to dress up huge changes to the gardens and bandstand with a few promises of some trees thrown in in the desperate attempt to get people onside. Trees are always planned in with developments to get the public onside then conveniently forgotten about soon after consent is given.

  6. They should never even have been considered as recipients of the MTDB funding as Stephen Darrer was a serving member on this board.
    As far as I have read they did receive £25K from it and if you go onto their site they have also received considerable sums from many different funding bodies.
    I think it is quite sad that obviously local residents did not seem to attend any of the events that Cliftonville Residents Association put on each year.
    16 concerts, classic car shows craft collectibles markets, so many things.
    The new residents to the area would not know of this.
    They ran these events from 1996 – 2017

    The Shipping containers will look hideous no matter what colour or cladding that you use.

    The fencing already looks like a prison.

    Surely they must have been aware of all this when they were gifted the site Freehold for £1.

    The site does not need trees whuch will spoil the open views.

    I will be contacting TDC about these shipping containers.

  7. This is a community asset and should not be fenced off now or in the future. Us locals want to used the Bandstand as and when we wish not when some faceless committee members decide. These changes are a backward step, remove the fencing and let us use the space free of charge.

  8. Welcome to Thanet where eco friendly means spending other peoples money (grants, funding & crowdfunding) on rubbish ideas for a niche (eco-zealots) audience of DFL’s. I’ll give it a couple of years before it looks like the remains of a sink estate.

  9. I think the people currently running this site have made major improvements to its use. There are open spaces around it all and the vast majority of events held there are open to the public for free. Cliftonville should be proud and grateful for such an amenity – much better than having it slowly rust away and weeds grow up and it rarely get used.
    I support the proposals. Shipping containers sound ugly but they of course, won’t just dump them there – they have already shown that they care about the look and feel of the facility.

  10. I hope the lawns are left as myself and many other people who live in flats opposite use this space to walk dogs. Though agree that some of plans look great, it should be used by residents of Cliftonville and not the DFLs that it’s catering for.

  11. awful fencing around it, unsightly,, step backwards . this place was great before these people ‘ purchased’ it

  12. Fence them in and keep them in … it’s will look and be a disaster.. overpriced everything.. eg a coffee £5 please!
    It will look like an overgrown junk yard

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