A detailed report covering the opening day of the re-imagined Dreamland Margate.
“That’s the way to do it” squawks Mr Punch as he brutally murders a policeman with a wooden club. The children are laughing whilst raised eyebrows originate from their parents faces. Despite the dark humour, there’s a spark of fresh imagination entwined with a traditional concept; a vibrant and lively performance mixed with a classic and iconic substance of many childhood memories. This is easily the best way to describe the re-imagined Dreamland.
The past ten years have undoubtedly been a roller coaster for the Kent based seaside amusement park. A closure, several harrowing arson attacks and an uncertain future all left a discouraging shadow over the site. Yet at 11:00am on Friday 19 June 2015, a concentrated team of hardworking individuals from all different walks of life came forward to throw open the gates to Dreamland once again. Amongst the crowd were toddlers barely old enough to walk, as well as an elderly generation beaming with pride. It was clear that the reopening of Dreamland had been successful at something before it had even opened; uniting generations over the prospect of fun and happiness.
The anticipated opening of 10:00am sadly faded away with last-minute preparations being frantically undertaken within the park to ensure everything was as perfect as it could be. The press had arrived in their dozens, ranging from local radio to national television, all eager to get the money shots and a diverse range of interviews.
The ribbon was ultimately cut by a well-selected line up: George Weston Wright, a former brakeman on the Scenic Railway from the 1940s. Alongside him stood Dreamland founder Henry Isles’ great great granddaughter, Heather Brannan. Both were also joined by David Sanger and Caz Bartlett, descendants of former site owner Lord George Sanger. With all these faces originating from either Dreamland’s past or offering a helping hand in the present and future, their presence was warmly received over a mainstream celebrity ribbon cutting.
Once inside the Dreamland premises, a nostalgic atmosphere from yesteryear was induced by classic music, whilst combined with the striking modern yet retro branding and marketing designed and upheld by Wonderful Creative Agency. The two distinct sides to Dreamland are both marked out easily, the Pleasure Park on the left and the Roller Disco and Penny Amusement Arcade on the right.
Within the Pleasure Park, the Grade II* listed Scenic Railway stands a noble presence over the rest of the other attractions. Despite the horrific blaze that attempted to claim the roller coaster in 2008, its visual aesthetics today are hugely pleasing. Sporting the fresh look of a modern wooden roller coaster, yet teasing soon-to-be riders with promises of a classic and nostalgic ride. The brightly restored haulage wheel remains visible to park guests, yet is now housed within a snug wooden structure beneath the ride above.
Sadly the Scenic Railway wasn’t the only attraction closed on Dreamland’s special day. Several other rides including Kiss Me Quick, the Counter Culture Caterpillar and Monotopia also remain closed, with the latter still looking very much like a construction site. Accommodating for their closures thankfully was the temporary spinning roller coaster, Crazy Mouse. The action packed Messhams Wall of Death show also put up a superb display of not only rallying old Indian Scout bikes up a circular wooden wall, but also drawing in the crowds to watch the jaw-dropping display. The park have confirmed the show is only temporary, but the nostalgic nature of the show and the family history that has unravelled to keep the show alive contributed exquisitely to the vision of Dreamland.
Other rides that made the cut on Day One of the re-imagining were the Dream Dodgems, where a swift pace of speed and lengthy duration makes for a unique twist on a well-recognised element of fairgrounds across the world. The Gallopers Carousel proudly sits next to the park entrance to give guests an almost instant welcoming with a traditional offering, and the Helter-Skelter offers spectacular views over the park when The Big Wheel of Colour is closed (which also sadly didn’t make the cut for opening day).
The Jumping Tower situated next to the Dream Dodgems finds itself as a standard frog hopper nestled opposite the beating heart of Dreamland in the form of the Scenic Railway, catering for the younger thrill seekers. This ride in particular took a noticeable amount of time to begin operation during the morning, and even suffered from several periods of downtime throughout the day.
One of the unsung attractions at the park appears to be the Hurricane Jets, allowing guests to climb aboard their delicately painted retro rockets and control their altitude. Opposite the Jets lies the Jumping Pirate Boats, overseen by perhaps some of the most enthusiastic staff members in the British amusement park industry, perhaps sparked by their ability to don their own sail caps.
Whilst on the topic of the staff, the opening day was overseen by an entire team of dedicated and enthusiastic individuals who were a credit to the re-imagined vision. Whilst there are a handful who have returned to Dreamland from working on the site previously, there are also over two hundred new individuals who worked tirelessly throughout the day to make each and every guest’s visit memorable and magical. Rather than wearing a uniform, the staff are entitled to wear a vibrant t shirt/jumper of their choice sporting one of the park’s marketing slogans, of which there are many. Complete with jeans and white trainers, staff are also permitted to display their own tattoos rather than hiding them away, allowing them to have their own identities.
At other theme parks, staff will encourage you to part with your wallet on sideshow games or via countless methods of upselling. At Dreamland, the staff will encourage you to have fun, interact with you and make you feel the beauty of being a human being rather than a cash machine. Frequent friendly interaction in the queues, constant updates to guests regarding ride downtime and deeper, friendly conversation at food stands than your typical “how’s your day been” script are the common employee behaviour and traits. Ultimately it became difficult to detect whether more effort had been invested in reopening Dreamland for an entirely new generation, or in selecting the most amicable dream team (or storytellers as they’re known) imaginable.
Outside the park is the classic Roller Disco and Penny Amusement Arcade. The atmosphere inside the structure is thick with nostalgia, almost as If an invisible cloud of dust carrying memories of Dreamland from the 1920s is present in the air. The roof itself looks untouched, appearing to be one of the more run down aspects of the re-imagination that will inevitably receive its spruce up in an upcoming phase. The floor of the arcade is embedded with thousands of pennies, a charming and unique idea if almost untidy to some.
The structure also houses the bold and slick Dreamland Emporium, the one stop shop for all the new Dreamland merchandise. Featuring heavy use of the creative marketing on a range of merchandise such as yo-yos, pens, and badges, the usual range for an amusement park is present and clear, albeit with a pleasing to the eye Dreamland finish. The best part of the shop is the range of admittedly pricey products recycled from the Scenic Railway. From small rings to key rings, two style of clocks and even a clutch bag (which may require a mortgage), the old Scenic has been put to good use for guests to take home their very own special piece of Dreamland.
The ballroom also resides within the structure but is still undergoing renovation. Once complete, there’s no doubt a sentimental walk down memory lane will be on offer for the older generations.
As Dreamland’s first day drew to a close, staff poured out of their respective attractions to compete with each other to gain the last few guests of the day rather than turning them away. The park’s security slowly but surely swept the park, respectfully ushering guests out to ensure preparations could begin for the Opening Night Hullabaloo several hours later.
The Opening Night Hullabaloo itself was remarkable. The upbeat and lively tone set by the staff earlier was uplifted, an even more tremendous effort being made. The extra musical offerings enhanced the atmosphere immeasurably, catering for guests of all musical tastes and generations. Older guests had dressed to impress and were demonstrating wonderful dance routines throughout the park, whilst the younger generations enjoyed the rides and awaited the headlining act of Marina and the Diamonds. Despite headlining, there’s no questioning that Marina’s crowd was hugely outnumbered on the main stage by Chas n’ Dave who performed before her.
Images by Dreamland Margate.
Dreamland’s final ounces of magic came as the sun set, with the Scenic’s fairy lights adorning its railings adding a fantasy element to the setting. Despite the presence of musical artists and the world’s smallest night club in the form of the Miniscule of Sound, Dreamland had already succeeded in hosting an unforgettable opening day and a unique yet crowd pulling event that evening.
The passion invested into bringing the heart of Margate back to life was overwhelming. Throughout the day, laughs were heard and tears were shed as one of the oldest seaside amusement parks in Britain was brought back to life before the eyes of the nation. Whilst to hard-core ride seekers the reimagined Dreamland may not offer much at present, there’s the undisputed charm and nostalgic atmosphere that sets the park aside from anything else in the country. Perhaps the park may have opened several months too early, and given more time the rewards would have been reaped. But the efforts that have been made thus far are ample in securing a future for Dreamland.
The disappointment that the Scenic Railway would not be open alongside the grand reopening was clearly stated in the opening speeches, but also paved an upbeat tone for the revelation of what the future holds for the park. There’s a clear desire for further investment in the park, and that should you be someone who visits once a month, there will always be something new or different for you to experience. This isn’t just a theme park ran by a larger company in a uniform manner of draining you from your money, but a plucky little seaside amusement park with a heart, a charming personality and offers a rare animated walk down memory lane – even if it does feature a psychopathic hand puppet.
GALLERY: Images from Dreamland Margate’s reopening day: