Behind-the-scenes look at the new Margate Dreamland

Once a symbol of the best of the British seaside, attracting millions of visitors at its peak in the 1960s, Margate’s Dreamland amusement park has sat unloved for decades. In ten days though, it will reopen, redesigned and restored under the creative direction of Hemingway Design. The new Dreamland will be a mix of a heritage theme park and a hip new events venue: here’s a first look at how the site is being developed…

Once a symbol of the best of the British seaside, attracting millions of visitors at its peak in the 1960s, Margate’s Dreamland amusement park has sat unloved for decades. In ten days though, it will reopen, redesigned and restored under the creative direction of Hemingway Design. The new Dreamland will be a mix of a heritage theme park and a hip new events venue: here’s a first look at how the site is being developed…



The revival of Dreamland is the latest step in the recent wider regeneration of Margate. In 2011, the Turner Contemporary art gallery, designed by David Chipperfield, opened on the seafront, and the Old Town has a growing number of independent shops, reflecting the creative community that has settled in the town.

Dreamland first opened in 1920 (though an amusement park sat on the site from 1880) and enjoyed a peak of success in the 1960s and 70s, before cheap overseas travel led British holidaymakers to the warmer climes of Europe. By the 2000s, the site was in serious decline and plans to redevelop it into flats were announced in 2003. These were prevented by protests by the public though uncertainty hung over its future until 2013 (two years after work on the new Dreamland had begun by Hemingway Design and the wider team) when Thanet District Council gained ownership via a compulsory purchase order.

This complex history is in part what drew Hemingway Design to bid to work on the project. “I’d been following some of the stories and I thought it was really interesting because I like community uprising and this is what this was,” explains Wayne Hemingway, who runs Hemingway Design with his wife and business partner Gerardine. “Me and Gerardine have always been very political and this was something we were following and thinking ‘bloody hell’. To be honest I thought the developer would win.”


The Dreamland site under development

The competition brief for the new Dreamland asked for a heritage theme park, though Hemingway felt this was a limited approach, and instead suggested a mix between a heritage park and an events space that could operate all year round. “To keep it going as a heritage project, you’re going to have to raise loads of money to subsidise it, or you’re going to have to have someone with very deep pockets who’s a benefactor,” says Hemingway. “So we came up with this idea that it could be an events space as well. I think that’s what won us the bid, because we added another dimension to what they were thinking.”

“From a commercial perspective, if you’re just about rides, you’ve got a limited season, the summer,” says Eddie Kemsley, CEO at Dreamland. “We wanted to be able to stretch that and the events programme gives us that ability. We can hold something like Screamland, which is our Halloween festival, and we’re doing an amazing Christmas event, and hosting a gaming festival in February. You can keep jobs going through the winter, when a lot of these kinds of businesses have to hire people seasonally.”

Hemingway Design worked with Ray Hole Architects on the design of the site, and M&C Saatchi to create the branding and tone of voice. The new Dreamland will open in phases. The first phase, opening on June 19, will include the theme park, featuring rides from the late 1880s to the present day, and a roller disco. The newly built scenic railway and a ballroom events space will open later in the year.


The roller disco hall under development; Close up of roller disco ceiling; recycled artifacts to be used in the new Dreamland


The budget for the project has been extremely tight, with all the rides in Dreamland costing the equivalent to one new ride at a major modern theme park. “The biggest battle is how do you squeeze something this scale out of the money that you’ve got,” says Hemingway. “Two years of marketing budget for Blackpool and Alton Towers added together comes to the total amount spent on the whole of this, including marketing. It’s one hell of a challenge.”

The limited funds have defined the direction of the design to some extent, with the team reusing and recycling everything from the original site that they can. All the remaining wood from the original scenic railway (which was part destroyed by an arson attack in 2008) has been resused, both as furniture for the site and as souvenirs, and other fairground artifacts have been sourced via the internet, before being ‘upcycled’. The roller disco will feature the original ceiling in the space, which is sound but charmingly worn.

“It can make you make the right decisions,” says Hemingway of the budget restrictions. “At least we can hold our hand on our hearts and say we really have reused everything. Every single thing. It may not be as designer-y as sometimes you’d like things to be, but at least you’ve done the right thing and been sustainable, thrifty and sensible. [Plus] we have some good things coming through [in later phases] that are new and shiny.”


Items waiting to be ‘upcycled’ at the Hornby warehouse in Margate


Much of the upcycling has taken place in a huge space in the Hornby warehouses in Margate, where Jack Hemingway of Hemingway Design has overseen a team of mostly local designers to restore the salvaged rides and signage, and create new objects from the scenic railway wood. As well as finding items on eBay, the team bought pieces from Blackpool, and also received donations. Some of these came from local people who had ‘liberated’ items from the original Dreamland. “If you’re going into the Old Town, you’ll probably see some artifacts in some of the vintage stores that are from Dreamland,” says Jack Hemingway. “And if you walk around the town, you’ll probably see them in people’s back gardens.”

While the upcycled items will form a major aspect of the new Dreamland, the aim is to always mix the old with the new, to give an echo of the site’s much-loved history, but also keep it fresh. This is reflected in Wayne Hemingway’s summation of the whole proposition for the new Dreamland, which he describes as “old-fashioned but oh-so-fashionable”.


Map of the new Dreamland site; Examples of branding for Dreamland by Hemingway Design; Souvenirs

“Margate is a bit rough around the edges and that’s what’s really attractive to creative people,” says Jack Hemingway. “There’s an opportunity here as well. I think elements of Dreamland’s future will be slick, but we don’t want it all to be slick. But we wouldn’t want it all to be upcycled and salvaged. I think you’ve got to have that contrast.

“Before we joined the project, the vision was just for an amusement park with historic rides but … it’s a better story and better narrative to say you’re charting the evolution of rides, and now there’s modern rides in there as well,” he continues.

East Londoners were always particularly drawn to Margate historically and the new Dreamland’s cheeky vintage look and branding seems likely to appeal to the hipster community that populates that part of the capital today. The retro look used at Dreamland is currently very fashionable, though when questioned over whether this might fade, Wayne Hemingway robustly defended its enduring appeal. “It’s 37 years since me and Gerardine started selling second-hand clothes, and it’s bigger than it ever was,” he says. “Things don’t go for 37 years and then stop – it’s part of our lives.”


Upcycling at the Hornby warehouse

The team’s passion for the project, and respect for Dreamland’s heritage, is evident in the depth and attention to detail in its design, with the rides themselves also filled with quirky touches and unusual references wherever possible. “The spinning teacup ride is a great example,” says Wayne Hemingway. “Every theme park has a spinning teacup ride in the kid’s section – we thought ‘what’s the most iconic teacup in Britain?’. Wedgwood. So we had this idea – and I can’t believe they went for it – of doing it in Wedgwood colours and [showing] the evolution of youth culture [on the cups] – so we had a teddy boy, a mod, a rocker, a hippie, a punk, a new romantic, a raver…” To keep it authentic Hemingway approached a Wedgwood illustrator to create the images, who, while he more typically paints Greek goddesses for the company, agreed to do it. “The end result, they’re finding it quite shocking, but they’re laughing about it,” says Hemingway. “That’s great – a great little story in its own right.”

The new Dreamland will be filled with such touches, and, with its unusual rides and events spaces, and the unique history of the place, the hope is that it will offer an appealing alternative experience to the speed and action of the more snazzy contemporary theme parks. “What inspired us quite a lot is as a family we’ve travelled a lot in places like India and Egypt,” says Hemingway,  “and I remember taking the kids to really funny amusement parks where you do things like pedal, and it’s so slow that it’s fun. I’ve got more memories of going on those. We can’t hope to compete with [the slicker theme parks], so we’ve got to do something that’s got wit and charm.”

Dreamland opens on June 19, with an event hosted by Vic Reeves and featuring performances from Marina & the Diamonds and Chas ‘n’ Dave.

  • Fantastic to see Dreamland back from the dead and contributing towards the regeneration of Margate. The branding appears to be very similar to Southbank Centre though in my opinion.

  • CG

    I do hope Dreamland will be a success – but the identity and design work is completely uninspired.

    Would of been nice to see the creation of something appropriate & engaging for its audience rather than something so anal that just ticks the boxes of current trends & fads. It just resembles a short-term campaign for a temporary installation, which is the last thing it should be…

  • Tom

    Agree with CG. Shame as it could have been so much less predictable.

  • Mark

    “Oh I do like to be ironic by the seaside…”

  • Dan

    It seems a fair and honest approach from the Hemingway team and if a success it could be looked at by a lot of other similar venues around the coasts of the UK with minimal used budgets and existing infrastructure that makes sense to utilise and creates local identities and much needed authenticity in an increasingly homogenised world. Good luck to all involved and hope a success, which will then hopefully provide future bigger budgets!

  • Greg Howells

    I used to visit Dreamland with my family in the nineteen-sixties. I have very fond memories of the place, especially the Scenic Railway. I wish all of the people involved in this project, good luck. Hopefully, it will become a vibrant place once more.

  • Amanda

    I agree with CG very boring design work on the branding. Surely there should be a wow factor from all the advertising to really launch a new era for DREAMLAND.

  • Cindy-Clare Handleigh

    In the late 80’s you used to be able to buy a train ticket from London to Margate that included entry into Dreamland. I do so hope that the railway will pick this scheme up again

  • I personally cannot wait, and i think the whole of Margate agrees. As you can see in the video below

  • DConran

    I think the folder cover pretty much sums up the wasted visual opportunity – Is anyone feeling the ‘FUN, FOOD, DANCE & THRILLS’ ?

    As the comments above reflect – they’re playing on recycling/keeping the old & relying on nostalgia (& peoples memories of going there) but is that going to be enough? Will children respond to this, the tired looking industrial power station clipart identity or their ‘Only Fools & Horses’ website?

    As CG said it really doesn’t engage or seem appropriate which is a massive shame.

  • Kevin

    Hi. there I hope that the young children of today will find it just as great as we did in my day. I know the kids like certain theme parks. at least that it is completely different props that’s what the youngsters want something different. It be interesting if dreamland did a online survey and ask the youngsters what they think of the rides and would I be coming back. also lot of mature age people which have disposable income as well Will use the park. and it will bring back lots of memories so hopefully it will make a good go of it. Unfortunately these days I am hundreds of miles away from it so won’t be out to get there but hopefully dreamland will put on lots of clips on that website of the fun and games well done dreamland keep it up keep the memories coming back

  • With so much attention on rollercoaster safety at the moment, this has to be the worst time to unveil your new theme park. Especially when one of your key talking points is how you have had to scrimp and squeeze every penny to build the rides.

    I hope that Dreamland doesn’t suffer from the Alton Towers crash, but it was certainly the first thing that came into my mind.

  • Wills

    I don’t know why people are being so sniffy about the design work. It is entirely appropriate for the scale of the project and the feel of the resort and the mood of the park. It would be wrong to brand Dreamland with a “WOW factor” that won’t be delivered in reality. There will certainly be an “ooh factor” and an “aah” factor and a lot of smiles, and the look fits that. It’s gently nostalgic for a family audience, not selling a competitor for Disneyland. With the tight circle of Dreamland, the beach, Turner Contemporary and the Old Town (which very much mixes art and Vintage), and of course sunsets to die for, I reckon it’ll make a memorable day trip or weekend. But I live here, so I don’t even have to get on a bus, let alone the train!

  • Nigel Mayer

    Oh boy! You people need to be more positive. This is the best thing to happen since the Turner Center and quite frankly, your last hope to bring life back to what has been quite a depressing seaside town.
    What more do you want from this team and the budget they’ve been allowed. You already read that this whole project bringing back Dreamland is the equivalent of ONE ride at your beloved Alton Towers.
    So it’s no Disneyland, get over it. Take a trip to Disneyland and compare what you’d spend there to a cheap day out at Dreamland. Maybe its appeal will only be for families with kids up to a certain age group, but at least it’s a start and fills the big empty hole. Next up Margate you ought to fix up the ugly storefronts on the seafront and move away from arcades and go for more eating establishments and shops and make the seafront more appealing to all age groups. I was brought up in Margate and have had the opportunity to live in San Diego, Las Vegas and now Florida and my fond childhood of Margate will always be in my heart. But I’ve also seen some great parks and know that money prevents Margate from having an Alton Towers, so just welcome what can be done and enjoy the old again.

  • Steve Birbeck

    For those knocking the design, if you do your research you will see it is a contemporary reflection of cutting edge poster design from the 20s, a nod to the origins of Dreamland park. But this is not an ‘in your face’ kind of place and the design reflects that well.
    As for the rides, I have four children under the age of 11. We have been to most of the big parks and whilst the kids love the excitement factor, the truth is there is only a small handful of rides they can actually go on and they don’t usually last the average forty minute wait to get on (yes, even the kids rides at the height of season)!

    Then, we took them to Gullivers World in Warrington, a rather (slightly) run down looking place full of rides just like this. No more than five minute waiting times at the height of the season, young(ish) kids can go on most of the rides without an adult and they can ride most if not all the rides in the park all day long!

    We ended up having annual passes every year for four years and, as it was local, went there pretty much every other weekend (and several days over in a week at school holidays). The kids NEVER tired of it, and when they talk about good memories, Gullivers always comes up.

    If Dreamland can give young children and families the same experience then it is on to a winner! Good luck Dreamland!

  • Pat

    The rationale from the last three comments above fall as flat as the visuals shown in the article!

    So an amusement park shouldn’t have a ‘Wow Factor’
    Small Budget means Poor Design is acceptable? Why do I need to do reeasrch to validate the design?
    I’m sure the cutting edge poster designs of the 1920’s will be really effective to a 6 year old!

    And why is it being compared to Disneyland when that isn’t even in question!?

    I think everyone wants it to be successful, unfortunately the design probably isn’t going to help it!

  • Is that you Pat!?

  • Clem Fandango

    When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because there might be a tasty fish supper in it for them.

  • Great to see the British seaside back in action. Look forward to checking out the results!

  • lyn

    childrens play area to expensive at £5.95 for 2 hours, also food and coffee expensive especially with 2 children, asked about the face painting and was told that the staff had not done the training yet!!!
    Also whats with all the 1p’s on the floor
    , dont you think its cost enough without wasting money
    Apart from that, good luck although i do wish it was like it used to be and you were able to walk round for free