Interview by Gary Radice
: Added 2002/2003/2005
Since the Save Dreamland Campaign launched its local headquarters in Margate it has been headed by Local Campaign Coordinator Sarah Vickery.

Sarah owns the Grade I listed Shell Grotto in Margate, a popular tourist attraction with shop, museum and café attached.

She is Vice-Chair of the Isle of Thanet Tourism Association, Chair of the Thanet Contemporary Arts Festival and a member of the Margate Events Group.

Before taking over the Grotto, she was a journalist specialising in arts and travel. 

Nick Laister and Sarah Vickery met with North Thanet MP Roger Gale on 18th February 2003 to discuss the Campaign’s own proposals for the future of the park...

Sarah, both Nick Laister and yourself had a meeting with Roger Gale MP. Could you tell themagiceye how you thought it went
Our meeting with Roger Gale MP was a bit of an eye opener. Gale had been quoted in the local press talking with enthusiasm about Jimmy Godden giving the Scenic Railway to the people of Margate so that it could be moved to another local site.
I had hoped we would be able to disabuse him of this idea; call me irresponsible (or, if you are Mr Gale, call me unrealistic).
Gale’s plan, which has been embraced by the local Conservative party, is to form a charitable trust which would manage the Scenic, dismantle the ride, put it in safe storage, and then resurrect it elsewhere.
There are any number of flaws to this plan:
The sites suggested are simply not viable; moreover, a viable site just doesn’t exist in Margate;
The money this would cost would virtually buy you the Dreamland site; and, most importantly, the people behind this plan insist they do not require listed building consent to move the Scenic as it is a “moveable structure”.
This last point is absolute rubbish - portable structures are not even eligible for listed building status.
Are you more optimistic now following the meeting?

It’s always better to know exactly what you’re up against! I can’t help thinking that Gale’s plans are a red herring, so I am optimistic that we can focus our attention where it’s most needed rather than wasting our time on smokescreens.
We have since had a much more positive meeting with Cllr. Richard Nicholson, the leader of Thanet District Council. He is committed to seeing a visitor attraction on the Dreamland site, and confirmed that Stadium Developments’ current plan for a largely retail development is completely unacceptable. This is at least moving in the right direction.
What are your views on the forthcoming 'Public Consultation'?

I began worrying about this the day that it was announced, via a joint press release from Thanet District Council and Stadium Developments.
This release stated that Mr Godden “welcomed the commitment of all round the table to ensure a new leisure and retail complex built to the highest standard”. Having received this commitment on day one, you wonder what input any public consultation can have.
What’s even more worrying is the council’s recently announced plan to create a new Masterplan for Margate, which again will be drawn up in partnership with the developers of the Dreamland site.
These “consultations” are all predicated upon Dreamland closing and, while I don’t doubt that the public will be asked for their opinions at some point, I can’t imagine that Stadium Developments will welcome the thoughts of thousands of people who all believe that what we already have on that site is exactly what we want: an amusement park.

How do you feel the campaign is going overall?

The Campaign has far exceeded my expectations, both in terms of the support it has gained and the work it has generated! It’s less than two months since Nick Laister started this Campaign and we already have 13,000 people behind us, which is an extraordinary testament to the strength of feeling out there concerning Dreamland and the Scenic Railway.
I live and work in Margate and speak to local people every day about this - people who are angry and upset at the potential loss of such an integral part of Margate’s heritage, and people who are worried about Margate’s future as a tourism destination. This Campaign has given all us worried little individuals one big voice and made us impossible to ignore.
I am particularly excited about the Save Dreamland Convention that is happening on Easter Saturday 19 April (2003) at Margate’s Theatre Royal.
We will be screening O Dreamland, Lindsay Anderson’s landmark film, shot in 1953 at Dreamland, plus Richard Foster, Chairman of the European Coaster Club, will be speaking on the importance of the Scenic Railway.
Our local Dreamland expert, Mick Tomlinson, is presenting the park’s long history and Nick Laister will be updating everyone on the Campaign and chairing a debate.
I am hoping for a full and vocal house! Come along! It’s a great excuse for a day out in Margate and a few rides on the Scenic.
What now?

We will continue to fight our corner: lobbying the decision makers to ensure that our members’ voices are heard; challenging half-baked plans and misinformation; promoting the Campaign whenever and wherever possible; investigating all possible ways and means to retain Dreamland and the Scenic Railway and secure its future.
If necessary, we will, as someone once said, fight them on the beaches...

Sarah, could you tell themagiceye a little bit about The Shell Grotto?

The Shell Grotto is a series of underground passageways and rooms, decorated with 4.6 million shells that make up 2000 sqft of mosaic.
It was discovered in 1835 and debate has raged over its origins ever since.
Some people think it’s a pre-Victorian folly, others that it is an ancient Pagan temple. The Grotto has been referred to as 'Shellhenge' and the Eighth Wonder of the World(!) and it’s a Grade 1 listed structure.
I bought the Grotto in 2001 and just love the place. Whenever it was built, and whatever went on down there (I do wonder) it’s a beautiful and amazing site!
We have a little museum room, a large gift shop and a café that serves the best coffee in Margate (or so my customers tell me). Being here every day certainly beats working for a living.
If anyone wants to come and visit we are in Grotto Hill, Margate
and are open daily, 10am to 5pm, Easter to Halloween, and weekends only in Winter, 11am to 4pm.
Admission costs the princely sum of £2.50 for adults and £1.50 for children. (Please note these are 2008 prices)
01843 220008

Sarah Vickery in 2006 (Photo: Save Dreamland Campaign)

Sarah Vickery, Roger Gale MP and Nick Laister in February 2003 (Photo: Save Dreamland Campaign)

Sarah Vickery at the 'Dreamland Says Goodnight' event in 2004 (Photo: Nick Laister)

The Scenic Railway in 2003 (Photo: Save Dreamland Campaign)

The Save Dreamland Convention in 2003. If you look carefully you can see Sarah sitting on the second row, third from the right. (Photo: Nick Laister)

Part of the labyrinth of tunnels in the Grade I listed Shell Grotto. (Photo: Sarah Vickery)

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More on Dreamland
Save Dreamland Campaign official website
Dreamland Remembered - book by Nick Evans

'Just For Fun: Amusement Parks of the United Kingdom' DVD features extensive footage of Dreamland in 1996.
'South East Tour 1993' DVD features extensive footage of Dreamland from 1993 in the Bembom Brothers era.

The Save Dreamland Campaign's proposals for a heritage amusement park at Dreamland
Dreamland Photo Galleries

Thanks to Nick Laister and Sarah Vickery.

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