Buckle up! Dreamland reopens on Margate’s seafront on June 19 after a painstaking restoration project and is set to dazzle a whole new generation of thrill-seekers. We catch up with Wayne Hemingway MBE – who is leading the redesign along with his wife Gerardine Hemingway MBE and the award-winning HemingwayDesign team – ahead of the big day for the lowdown on Britain’s oldest theme park, hidden gems by the sea and his favourite places to visit to in England.
We are not going for thrill rides that have been developed in America. It’s about the fact that there is history to it, it looks at the history of rides. The whole idea is to make it a different and new experience from traditional amusement parks. It will stimulate people in every way, the soundscape, how visual it is, the taste, the smell – all of that has been thought about. Also, a lot of the time it will feel like you’re at a festival, there’ll be lots of music and entertainment.
A lot of them have come from Europe and a lot have come from famous British parks. We have reimagined them, upcycled them and recoloured them. There are a few new ones like the teacups which have not really changed in design ever, I don’t think, but we’ve made them into cheeky giant Wedgwood. We’ve also got some original gallopers which I think people will love.
Everyone, including me, is most excited about the Scenic Railway – the oldest rollercoaster in the UK. It’s what anybody who has been there will remember for many reasons. It dominates in terms of scale, it’s by far the largest thing on the site. It’s like a load of giant matchsticks stacked up. Things just don’t get built like that anymore and the fact that it’s made of wood makes it sound different. It’s also got a brakeman (someone who operates the ride manually) on the back which adds to the drama. It does hark back to another era and whenever I see it I just think of Coney Island.
Margate’s got an awful lot going for it, the old town is starting to become full of interesting sites, from galleries to vintage shops to cafes then obviously you’ve got the Turner Contemporary. It’s full of quirky and unusual things. The Shell Grotto is a crazy visitor attraction as you’re ever going to see. You walk through some streets up a hill and you think you’re going into someone’s house. They don’t know the history of it or who made it, it’s a bit mad, a bit of a mystery. The whole Thanet coast has got a lot going on and you can find hidden gems as you go along the coast either way, there are loads of little cafes and beach huts. Ramsgate is a cool little place as well.
"Margate’s got an awful lot going for it, the old town is starting to become full of interesting sites, from galleries to vintage shops to cafes"
I was brought up by the sea so it’s in my blood. For the first seven years of my life I lived in Morecambe and that had a very old amusement park which doesn’t exist anymore so I understand how the people of Margate felt when they lost it (Dreamland) and what it meant to them so that’s why there’s a personal element to this as well.
I remember spending very happy years in Morecambe and going back every holiday to visit my Nan after I had moved to Blackburn. I remember the excitement of going to Blackpool and spotting that tower and the excitement of the the Illuminations and just all the people getting together and having a holiday. And as we’ve had kids, all the fun we’ve had by the seaside, buying a house by the sea when the kids were still young in Chichester Harbour.
Absolutely. The Dreamland Trust has gathered a tremendous archive of old posters, photos and postcards. People have been donating all that kind of stuff. But also, the Dreamland Trust have been collecting memories and filming people and documenting everything so all that has been there as a resource for everybody involved to feed off of.
There’s the ballroom which will be a great place for small gigs or talks and that opens in autumn. Then next year it’s all about Hall by the Sea which is an old train shed, an amazing building which could hold up to 2000 people for concerts or even a rave, it’s just one of those huge, multi-functional spaces.
And then there’s the cinema which I think was one of Britain’s largest cinemas with 2,200 seats, along with an amazing restaurant called the Sunshine Café which had big glass windows looking right across the sea. I imagine it will take about three years to get the whole thing up and running.
Dreamland is Britain’s oldest amusement park and its history is phenomenal. A lot of people want to come back and experience some of the things they experienced when they were young but it can’t just be about history. It’s getting that balance between showing the best parts of its history but also making it cool enough for a younger person. We can’t just serve the same kind of food that was around in the 1960s and just play Elvis Presley. And we can’t just recreate graphics for the 1950s either, we’ve got to do something that nods to history but reflects today’s thinking.
I like where we live – the West Sussex coast in the South East and the sandy beaches round there. I really like Boscombe in Bournemouth because again it’s a place that was really put down and the council were really brave with the Boscombe Overstrand and taking that risk with the surf reef which went wrong and has now been put right. I love that walk, cycle or run from Poole Harbour all the way through Bournemouth and then on to Christchurch.
I think the Lancashire coastline and the Morecambe coastline is fantastic too. I love that stretch of coast between Heysham and Carnforth in Morecambe. Morecambe Bay is probably my favourite coastal view. There’s nothing quite like that view across to the Lake District. I know I’m from there and I’m biased but seeing those lakes across the water, it’s awe-inspiring.
I’ve also fallen in Love with Liverpool again, we’re doing Vintage on the Dock there in July to celebrate 175 years of transatlantic travel from Liverpool to New York. I used to go there when I was young, to clubs, until I moved down south. That’s an amazing place and maybe I like it so much because it’s on water. There’s so much going on, it's just exploding.
Britain is surrounded by the sea and there aren’t that many countries where everybody is within about 75 miles of the sea. There’s no other country of this size, although we are relatively a small island, with 60-odd million people who have that sort of access. And that means it’s part of all of us, really. If you say ‘the seaside’ to anybody there’s something in the brain that gets you excited. I don’t know what it is, whether it’s being able to see across water but it’s part of being British.
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