A charity that was set up 13 years ago with the aim of taking over the city’s West Cliff Hall to create an outdoor cinema and indoor shop, restaurant and youth-focused community space, has been dissolved.
Project MotorHouse (PMH), which has also worked with hundreds of young people in Ramsgate and is run by Ramsgate resident and former Dr Who companion Janet Fielding, currently has its latest art project with students from Royal Harbor Academy on display at Turner Contemporary.
The seeds of the charity began in 2009, a year after Janet moved to Ramsgate. She wanted to see the refurbishment of the building which had been the last Ramsgate Motor Museum which closed in 2005.
The property, at Paragon, originally opened in 1914 as a theatre, concert hall, and strolling venue, next to the Royal Baths of Paragon.
It was an Italian garden with a bandstand until the cliff was carved out to make way for the new room. The first 40 meters of the existing promenade along the west cliff of Ramsgate is formed by the roof of the concert hall.
The hall had a rich history, including being the venue for a Rolling Stones concert in 1964, but it sat empty for 17 years.
Janet approached Thanet Council with a proposal to bring the hall back to life in 2009 and it was then that Project MotorHouse – originally called Low Carbon Community Ramsgate – was formed with a number of qualified administrators.
In the same year, Ramsgate Arts held an event called Love Hate Hope: Ramsgate and Janet used the results of this event and spoke to residents of all ages to develop a business case for the site.
In July 2010, Low Carbon Community Ramsgate (Later Project MotorHouse) presented its first draft business plan to Thanet District Council, making the case for the building to be self-sufficient. Local residents and students got to work cleaning up the site’s gardens.
In November of the same year Thanet Council and Project MotorHouse established a Memorandum of Understanding. In September 2011, the board agreed to the transfer of the assets to Project MotorHouse and specialist legal advice and negotiations with TDC on the details of the option and transfer deed followed.
In January 2013, a Dr Who fundraising event with David Tennant, Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker and Paul McGann took place. Dr Who fans arrive from as far away as Melbourne just for the weekend. He raises £32,000 in one day
The same year, PMH began its partnership with Ellington & Hereson School (now part of Royal Harbor Academy) and a structural assessment was carried out at West Cliff Hall, but failed to bring to light the corroded frame and its role in supporting both West Cliff Drive and the B2054, which is the main access route to the port. A new assessment in February 2014 confirms the suspicion that the frame is now beyond repair. West Cliff Drive is closed as the structure is dangerous in places.
The building is then shored up internally, but structural safety issues remain. It is later revealed that not only is the steel frame of the building badly corroded, but the exterior walls sat on damp masonry with no other support.
At the end of the year, PMH appointed Guy Hollaway Architects and in April 2015 they presented their first version of the plans for the theatre/cinema and the restaurant. In November, a second set of designs are presented and the program goes out for public comment and actress Brenda Blethyn, administrator of the PMH, organizes a fundraiser.
More funds were raised with a celebrity art auction in 2016, but in July 2017 Thanet council agreed to sell the property at public auction.
Ms Fielding predicts the site will remain empty unless TDC commits the money to properly protect the road and promenade and accuses the authority of throwing the problem into the long grass.
In October 2018, West Cliff Hall sold at auction for £225,000, more than double the list price. However, it still remains empty and unused.
During the time spent on the plans for West Cliff Hall, PMH also worked with young people on a number of art projects – mainly photography – which were shown in galleries and outdoors along the harbor and the Ramsgate seafront. Last September, students from PMH and Royal Harbor displayed Treasures – portraits of community volunteers on panels opposite the Arch Bar with QR codes linking to interviews on Ramsgate Radio.
The last exhibition – Fantastical Worlds – was presented at the Wooden Box Gallery in Ramsgate before being installed in the “warm bank” room of Turner Contemporary at Clore Studio. It remains on display until January 8.
Janet said: “We closed on October 10 and I’m just doing the final liquidation now. It’s a real challenge for charities to raise the base costs and I was subsidizing things and got to the point where I couldn’t keep going.
“We were offered less than half of the money we asked for (in grants) because everyone is overworked. People can’t pay for heat and food, we have to prioritize the essentials, so the funding climate is unfavorable.
“The MotorHouse project raised a lot of money and we spent it getting the building ready, the reports, the project manager, the architects, the public consultation because we had a commitment from the council and then they sold the building All that money raised has become dead money, it’s just not possible to put it all back together for an alternative local.
“We’ve worked with lots of kids over the years and done online projects during the pandemic. The Ramsgate Arts Barge will support youth projects.
West Cliff Room
July 1914 – The West Cliff Hall and Gardens opens to the public as a concert hall on the site of the Italian Gardens. On a sunny day, the concerts took place outside in the gardens below.
1914 – 1918 – Despite repeated bombardments from Europe and placement near a Maxim gun, the West Cliff Hall survives.
1920s – The hall is a popular concert hall with townspeople and visitors.
1930s – The building is enlarged, thus widening the Promenade. A one-storey extension is also added. It ruins the elegant Edwardian lines of the original building.
1940s – During World War II, dances were held in the lobby for pilots based at Manston Airport.
1950s – The old Victorian baths next to the west cliff have collapsed onto what is now the harbour. It was only a local woman’s quick thought that there was no loss of life. She noticed that the road was cracking and stopped all traffic.
1964 – The number of local people who have seen the Rolling Stones perform at West Cliff Hall could fill the building many times over.
1970s – The original waterfront terrace has been extended to its current size which is approximately 600 square meters.
1980s – Two brothers from Essex take over the lease and turn it into a car museum.
2005 – The Automobile Museum closes.
May 2009 – Janet Fielding first approaches Thanet District Council (TDC), the building’s owner, with ideas for bringing it back to life
September 2011 – The Cabinet of the TDC accepts the transfer of the assets to the PMH
November 2013 – TDC and PMH sign the option and transfer deed
February 2014 – Project MotorHouse organizes a structural assessment which confirms the suspicions that the chassis is now beyond repair. West Cliff Drive is closed as the structure is dangerous in places.
2015 – Guy Hollaway’s team presents its projects for the conversion of the cinema and the restaurant.
July 2017 – West Cliff Hall has accepted the transfer of assets (sale) by Thanet council
October 2018 – West Cliff Hall sells at auction for £225,000
2022 – The property remains empty and unused