Access visits Dreamland, the venue offering a ‘plug in and play’ experience for festival organisers

It’s easy to forget how much festivals borrow from the traditional amusement park model. At the average green field festival you can hardly move for fairground rides, food stalls and arcades.

In this context, it’s not surprising that the newly revamped and renovated Dreamland amusement park in Margate, Kent, is attracting a lot of attention for it’s ‘plug in and play’ offering to festival organisers.

There has been an amusement park on the site since the early 1870s, but it’s only in recent years that Dreamland has really begun to redefine itself as a top tier venue for organisers. After surviving an attempted closure in 2003, and following a successful ‘Save Dreamland’ campaign, the park reopened in 2015 with a range of new features. Significant investment in 2017 saw new landscaping for the park and a new PA system installed in one of its several unique event spaces.

There’s the 6,000-capacity Scenic Stage, the ‘Hall by the Sea’, which can hold up to 1,500, and the all-new Tivoli Gardens, which have enabled the park to accommodate thousands of visitors for a one-of-a-kind festival experience.

The park hosted 15,000 people in the summer of 2017 for the much-anticipated Demon Dayz festival headlined by Gorillaz, and in April 2018 will welcome the second edition of alternative music event Undercover Festival.

“As well as being an incredible amusement park it’s also an incredible festival site with an incredible infrastructure built into it,” explains Rebecca Ellis, Dreamland’s senior creative producer. “Usually when you have a festival you would have to bring in all of the rides, theming and decoration. We’ve got that here day-to-day with the park, and it’s also supported by the permanent infrastructure of the stages we have in and around the site.”

One of the aces up Dreamland’s sleeve, continues Ellis, is that the new, revamped venue is still relatively unknown to organisers, producers and artists.

“Every time we have artists come here it’s usually a wildcard on their tour,” she explains. “It’s something unique that’s out of the ordinary, so they approach the site in a much more jovial way than for a bog standard tour date.

“We do silly things like we’ll fire up the dodgems for them at the end of the show or give them some candyfloss or they’ll take over an area in one of our seafront pubs and have fish and chips. When people come to Dreamland they arrive and say ‘wow I didn’t know this was here’ and start to venture out a little bit, which is really nice to see. We pride ourselves on providing that experience.

“Because we’re developing and we’re new in our programming we need that; we want people to have a really good time here because there’s a lot of competition in regional venues. Plus, due to our proximity to London, there has to be something special about coming here.”

If there were two words that Ellis would want to define Dreamland as a venue, they would be ‘fun’ and ‘quality’.

“I don’t think all artists or producers expect high quality from regional venues,” she muses. “We want to give them assurances that when they come here we’re going to be taking their event seriously and supporting them in the delivery of that.”

The future for Dreamland looks, to put it mildly, busy. The remit for Ellis and her colleagues is to get the event spaces working hard, and continue looking into innovative content growth, collaboratively and also in-house.

“We’re looking at building some of our off-season events, such as Screamland and The Frosted Fairground so that they have a larger remit that isn’t just about the park overlay or scare mazes, but there’s also music content and concerts and cabaret combined with those.”

It’s clear that the newly revamped Dreamland is becoming a venue to watch, and one with a unique offering for organisers, artists and visitors.  AAA