Blog: Preservation & Rejuvenation SECBE Awards 2019 finalist - Sunshine Cafe, Dreamland

31 May 2019

submitted by Coombs (Canterbury) Limited

Sunshine Café, Dreamland, Margate - submitted by Coombs (Canterbury) Limited

Enduring relationships developed over 7 years have built a great team with a common aim: to provide a beacon in the town’s regeneration by bringing the iconic symbol of Margate to life.

The Sunshine Café is the most recent in a number of phases Coombs (Canterbury) Limited has undertaken at Dreamland since Thanet District Council purchased the dilapidated site in 2011. Had Thanet District Council not stepped in, the building would have worsened until demolition was the only option – the corrosion of the steel frame was creating cracking and blowing brickwork, allowing more water ingress thereby exacerbating the problem.

A brief overview of the Dreamland’s recovery:

  • Emergency works: Coombs undertook work to stabilise the buildings that had been unused for many years. They developed an empathy with the building and expertise in its fabric and structure.
  • Phase 1: works undertaken to the Grade 2 listed building included piling and engineering work, infrastructure and M&E services to facilitate the park’s rides and restoration works to specialist plaster and paint finishes. During Phase 1, the restoration of the ballroom, known as the Hall by the Sea, uncovered hidden features of the building that were subsequently restored. Works also included replacement crittal windows, structural decks, roof coverings, extensive repointing and restoration of a corroding steel frame.
  • The Sunshine Café, Dreamland: this phase of work involved more detailed restoration of the Sunshine Café including re-manufacture of neon lighting to its original design; the re-manufacture & restoration of the entrance foyer & front façade cast-iron windows and bronze entrance doors; and the restoration, installation of travertine stone facades, concrete repairs & upgrade works.

In more detail

Thanet District Council undertook the project management of Phase 2 directly, led by their Heritage Advisor. This helped build ever closer working relationships between client and contractor. Members of Coombs' established supply chain, known for their quality and performance, such as PA Grant, Prima and Judge Architects also continued their involvement from previous phases.

The Sunshine Café built upon Dreamland Phase 1’s use of local subcontractors – Phase 1 captured almost 95% of subcontractor spend within Kent. Phase 2 captured 96% of subcontract spend in Kent, excluding highly skilled/specified specialists (with a limited number of companies nationwide with the required skills) and manufacturer-approved installers.

Phase 2 involved many people with a personal connection with Dreamland. For instance, their site assistant's father was the strongman “the Great Blondini” during the 1950/60s and their surveyor’s grandfather was once responsible for the building’s maintenance. And there were a number of subcontractors with local staff such as All Access (next to Dreamland), Prima Systems (Nonington), Signscope Ltd (Thanet) and Town Carpentry (Broadstairs). Coombs' contracts manager, as a local resident (living half-a-mile away), found it particularly rewarding to be involved in the ongoing regeneration of the town and directly contribute to the positive effects on his local community.

The works at Dreamland have contributed to:

  • Increased footfall in Thanet - recreating a tourist attraction suitable for modern day use helping to bring visitors to Margate (400,000 visitors from June-August 2017).
  • Ongoing revival of the seaside town – £6m direct additional spend for the local economy. Adjoining buildings such as the Cinque ports and apartments above the amusement arcade have seen investment.
  • Creation of 200 new jobs.
  • Increased house prices.
  • Creating a significant music venue attracting acts like Gorillaz amongst a significant schedule of events.

A great sense of personal “ownership” was generated because a lot of the team have been working on projects at Dreamland for nearly a decade. The Coombs team are proud to have worked on the iconic Sunshine Café, and the wider park. This pride and personal “ownership” has already been shared in a variety of ways, such as presenting the project as best practice to the Kent Construction Focus Group and hosting a variety of tours for local interested architects, quantity surveyors and other consultants.


  • 65% of subcontract spend captured within 15-miles of this coastal project, with 96% retained in Kent – excluding highly skilled/specified specialists & approved installers.
  • The culmination of a 7-year relationship between client, contractor, designers and subcontractors contributing to the ongoing revival of Dreamland and Margate.
  • Dreamland has been part of Margate’s identity for nearly 100 years and the re-opening of the Dreamland amusement park has contributed significantly to the ongoing regeneration of the iconic seaside resort. It is highly likely that the Grade 2 listed cinema would have lain dormant and further degenerated without this intervention.

For more details:

Visit  Coombs Ltd

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