Following a six-year campaign, The Margate Caves Community Education Trust has announced that the future of the historic Margate Caves is secure and the attraction is expected to open in 2019, thanks to a grant of £1,115,700 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) confirmed today (March 23).
The group announced its success in securing more than £420,000 in funds from the Big Lottery Fund last year, so the HLF grant award now takes the project total to over £1.5million of funding raised by National Lottery players. The Trust will also be launching a crowdfunding campaign today, to support a programme of activity during the run up to reopening the Caves.
The group has planned an ambitious mixed-use scheme for the site.
Over the last six years, the Trust and the Friends of Margate Caves have worked closely with residents and groups to design a landmark building that includes community facilities, alongside a visitor centre that will provide access to the restored Caves. Designed by award-winning architects Kaner Olette, the building received planning permission in 2015.
The HLF grant will be used to build a new visitor centre, including a community café, and to refurbish the Caves, which were closed in 2004. The Big Lottery Funds previously announced will provide much-needed community facilities, to be used by Thanet residents.
The two National Lottery funds rarely work together in this way, meaning the Trust’s plans were complex and dependent on receiving all the permissions to meet a tight timescale. These include planning permission, removing the Health & Safety Executive’s prohibition notice, securing a lease from Thanet District Council and raising funds from the two National Lottery bodies. And of course – planning a landmark building to sit over the Caves themselves.
The Trust’s chair Sarah Vickery said: “Overcoming all the barriers, we’re now ready to launch an ambitious building programme and give the Caves a proper place in Margate’s historic townscape. Our building will be an important stop for visitors walking from Turner Contemporary and the Old Town to Northdown Road, as well as being at the heart of the local community.”
The funding also supports a series of commissions for artists, an activity programme that takes the Caves out to the community, and the development of a learning scheme for schools. It also provides training for volunteers not only at the Caves, but also those working at other heritage attractions locally.
Trustee Dan Thompson said: “Among many local tourist attractions, Margate Caves is uniquely able to tell the story of how landscape, ecology and geology have impacted on the town’s rich social and cultural history, so with this activity programme we’re putting the Caves back at the centre of local heritage.”
Trustee Valerie Kirschner added: “We’re especially pleased that we’ll be able to offer newly- constructed learning, activity and meeting spaces to our local community as part of the Caves centre.”
Margate councillor Iris Johnston added: ” I am absolutely delighted that the future of the Caves is now secure with an amazing community facility included. The tenacity of Valerie , Sarah and all the Friends has been outstanding. I would also like to pay tribute to Mrs Brenda Sotos who campaigned with former Councillor John Watkins , myself and others to stop the then Conservative council from selling off the site for housing.
Stuart McLeod, Head of HLF South East, said: “We’re delighted to support the Trust to reopen and conserve Margate Caves, continuing HLF’s significant investment into the South East’s coastal communities. Thanks to National Lottery players, this project will enable more people to visit and learn about Margate’s fascinating heritage and bring this site back into the community.”
To find out more about the forthcoming crowdfunding campaign, and to follow the Trust’s work on the new building, visit www.facebook.com/margatecaves/ or go to the crowdfunder page at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/margate-caves