Nick Laister, interviewed in January 2015, in the year that Dreamland is to reopen.

How long have you been involved with Dreamland?

It is now 12 years since I set up the Save Dreamland Campaign; it is hard to believe I have been doing this since 2003! I can now see light at the end of the tunnel, as Dreamland reopens in 2015, but it has been quite a journey.

Did you have a long history of visiting Dreamland before you set up the Save Dreamland Campaign?

In fact, my own involvement with Dreamland doesn't actually go back that much further than 2003. I didn't actually visit Dreamland until 1993, and I made a few visits after that with my children, but my only genuine contribution prior to 2003 was to send a report to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2001 suggesting that they might want to list the Scenic Railway roller coaster, which was the oldest surviving roller coaster in the UK. Looking back now I am so glad I did as I am not sure that the Scenic Railway rebuild, or indeed the reopening of Dreamland, would have happened, as the Scenic Railway seems to be at the heart of the enthusiasm of many people.

How does it feel to see the Scenic Railway rising from the ashes?

The listing of the scenic seemed like such a little event at the time, but it has had far reaching consequences that I could never have anticipated. It is fantastic to see the timber replacement and reconstruction that is now taking place. I think it will be even more exciting when we get to the stage of rebuilding those sections that were destroyed by fire in 2008.

Do you feel the project is in a good place in 2015?

I think the project is in a fantastic place. Thanet District Council has now agreed terms with a local operator, Sands Heritage Ltd, who will be responsible for operating Dreamland when it reopens later this year.  The Scenic Railway build is now well underway, several of the ride restoration projects are now advanced or even complete and work on site is pressing ahead.

Looking back, what do you think were the biggest milestones in the Dreamland journey?

The idea for rebuilding Dreamland as the world's first amusement park of thrilling historic rides was something that the Save Dreamland Campaign came up with in 2007. This was height of the property bubble and seaside parks were closing all around the country, not because they weren't viable, but because their redevelopment value was so high. The rewards for building a supermarket or apartments was so too much to resist. As someone who works in the industry as a planning and development advisor to a large proportion of the UK's amusement and theme parks, I was aware that every major historic seaside park outside Blackpool and Great Yarmouth was set to close by the end of that year, meaning that virtually all the amusement park heritage outside these two towns would be lost within 12 months. I though that we needed to save these rides, many of which were the oldest surviving examples of their type in Europe or the world. These rides would otherwise have been lost. We thought that the idea of rebuilding them, or similar rides from different eras, alongside the Scenic Railway in what I believe to be the oldest surviving amusement park in the UK, was so right. And thankfully many influential people and organisations agreed with us.

What was the next step?

Setting up the Dreamland Trust was the next step. Two of my colleagues at the Save Dreamland Campaign, Sarah Vickery and Susan Marsh, had been at the forefront of building the Campaign and getting the message across through so many different channels, whether it be the local or national media, local plan consultations or just simply standing on the streets of Thanet in the pouring rain trying to persuade people that supporting Dreamland is a good idea. And support us they did, and we managed to get the Dreamland site protected in the Thanet Local Plan. But we decided that campaigning alone wasn't enough. There needed to be an organisation that could actually involve itself in driving forward plans to reopen Dreamland, by going out there and securing funding for the project. The Dreamland Trust was born towards the end of 2007.

Since then the Trust has been working tirelessly to make this happen, convincing so many organisations that it would be a good idea to invest in the Dreamland project. I can remember so many meetings in London and elsewhere trying to persuade organisations that Dreamland was a cause worth supporting. So many of these organisations got on board, and I am so grateful for that. English Heritage, The Arts Council, Thanet District Council, South East of England Development Agency, Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, the list goes on. And with these organisations behind us, we were able to apply for money from Heritage Lottery and the DCMS. We successfully secured several million pounds from Heritage Lottery Fund. Other funders then came forward and we managed to get the project budget up to 18m. A huge thank you goes out to all the funders, but particularly to the Heritage Lottery Fund, DCMS and Thanet District Council, as without these organisations this project could not have happened.

With the funding in place, how did this change things?

It meant that we could bring a team on board, both in-house staff and also specialist consultants. And when our Heritage and Learning Officer, Jan Leandro, joined us in 2010, we were really able to reach  the local community and bring them with us, something the Trust directors, all of us volunteers, could not do alone. And our Project Directors, particularly Jonathan Bryant and Eddie Kemsley, really drove forward the project, making a big difference and they gave me great confidence that we and our partners could deliver. Our creative adviser, Wayne Hemingway, gave Dreamland a striking new look and feel that I think will get us noticed.

Where there any moments when you thought that the project would not come to fruition?

One or two, but we always fought on. For every bad moment like the devastating Scenic Railway fire of 2008, there have been so many great ones, such as somehow getting 2,500 people to turn up at Dreamland on one cold afternoon in the middle of November in 2013 to look around an empty and derelict amusement park, just after the Dreamland project had gained control of the site. It is moments like that - and there have been many - that have made me certain that we are doing the right thing in bringing back to life the south of England's greatest amusement park.

I am now really excited about the future of Dreamland. The dream is turning into reality this year.

Contact Nick Laister 

Back

 

Return to Save Dreamland

Return to Joyland Books: for the biggest selection of amusement park books on the Web!