In our latest Profiled article, we spoke to Nick Laister, a planning consultant who acts as planning and development advisor to numerous theme parks around the UK. Nick is also Chairman of the Dreamland Trust, which is building the world’s first amusement park of historic rides in Margate, and founder of joylandbooks.com, the home of amusement park books and media.
Nick is currently building a new attraction in Oxfordshire, which will be the UK’s first farm park designed around the needs of children with physical and sensory disabilities.
We spoke to Nick about the Save Dreamland project and their efforts to restore the Scenic Railway.
Briefly, what is current status of the Save Dreamland campaign? The team expanded not that long ago?
The Save Dreamland Campaign is continuing as before and we are recruiting new members almost daily. Most of the work on building the new Dreamland amusement park is carried out by the Dreamland Trust, which was born out of the Save Dreamland Campaign. It is the Dreamland Trust board that has expanded recently so that we have the expertise to develop and operate what is a £12.4m project.
For those people who are not aware of the basic Dreamland plan – can you briefly explain?
Our idea is to build the world’s first amusement park of thrilling historic rides around the listed Scenic Railway roller coaster, which was built in 1920 and is the oldest surviving roller coaster in the UK (fourth oldest in the world). We have rescued a number of other historic rides from amusement parks around the country that have closed down with a view to restoring some or all of them as part of the heritage amusement park.
The Scenic Railway was damaged by fire in April 2008. What is the current status of the ride?
The fire damaged sections have now been removed and the ride is currently standing with a sizeable hole in the middle of it. Sadly it is also now missing half of its station and the workshops, and all the original trains were in the workshop and were destroyed in the fire.
Do you find a wealth of support for the project in Margate? There must be thousands of people still living in the area who rode the Scenic Railway in their youth?
We have loads of support for the project. In addition to our many thousand supporters of the campaign, we have lots of people who have volunteered to help. We also have strong support at the Council, the landowners, English Heritage, Heritage Lottery, CABE and many more organisations.
When approaching the project at the outset – at what stage did you envision the park would be in October 2010?
When I started the Campaign back in January 2003, I think I expected that the park would have been reopened long before now! I think if I had known then what I know now I may have had second thoughts in starting the Campaign! But we are getting ever closer and I have made some really good friends through Dreamland, so I am not ready to throw in the towel just yet.
Since the Save Dreamland campaign began, the UK has lost at least two seaside amusement parks due to closure. Pleasureland especially was steeped in history and unfortunately the Cyclone was demolished. I understand Dreamland will be home to a number of former Pleasureland attractions?
Yes, we have rescued a number of rides from Pleasureland, including the wooden Wild Mouse coaster, the Caterpillar, the River Caves boats and mechanical parts, and various fun house machines.
Despite the closures, it is encouraging to know that some seaside parks are expanding – namely Adventure Island at Southend. Does this provide you with additional confidence that seaside amusement parks can continue to flourish?
Yes. With the right operator, a good quality mix of rides and in a strong location, seaside parks can continue to flourish.
I recently rode the Scenic Railway at Melbourne’s Luna Park. Those rides truly are unique. Will the Scenic Railway be the centre piece of the park?
It will, and our latest masterplan is designed to make the most of the ride’s presence.
Have you found the work you have done for Dreamland to be rewarding or will the reward come on the day the Scenic Railway reopens?
The work has been rewarding as every time we edge a step closer I feel it is worthwhile. But the main reward will of course be to see the Scenic Railway operating and Dreamland’s gates open, full of happy people enjoying a day out at a truly unique attraction.
Lastly, if people wish to be kept informed about the Dreamland project, where is the best place to visit?
Visit www.savedreamland.co.uk and sign up to our mailing list, where you will receive monthly PDF newsletters.