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VM Choice: Dreamland Margate

Dreamland, the refurbished funfair on Margate seafront backed by Thanet District Council, and led by Red or Dead founders Wayne and Geraldine Hemingway, is our VM Choice this week.

After closing in 2006 it reopened last summer with the help of a Lottery grant. It is now a slightly tougue-in-cheek but perfectly fun and playful, retro 1950s funfair, complete with a helter-skelter, merry-go-round and a roller-coaster ride.

Like the merry-go-round, with its perfect fairground font, classic colour palette and deliciously decorated horses, the entire funfair is everybody’s idea of a dream experience - without the jarring fonts, odd-coloured lights and contemporary merchandise which spoils the retro feel of many a fairground.

Originating in the 1860s, Dreamland is the oldest theme park in the UK. By the 1920s it covered 16 acres and included a zoo, a cinema, restaurants and cafes, plus a ballroom which played host to many 1960s and 1970s pop bands. The 1920s wooden roller-coaster, the Scenic Railway, is Grade II listed and the entire theme park has been knowingly but lovingly revamped so that it is a partly a piece of theatre, partly a piece of enjoyable VM, and everyone’s perfect theme park, all wrapped in 1950s nostalgia.

The Hemingway’s super-cool fashion background, as founders of affordable fashion brand Red or Dead, has given them a nuanced nostalgic sense of the 1950s, seen here in a Kiss Me Quick graphic, redolent of classic fruit-flavoured candy Sweethearts or Love Hearts.

Even the Big Wheel, offering sea and Margate views, is a classic with its neatly painted rainbow of seats.

Mayhew’s bike ride is a classic too. It has retro-painted scenes redolent of Art Deco sunbursts against which motorbike racers intently race below stylized hovering wings, reminiscent of early motorcycle and car badges. The lightbulbs around the perimeter of the canopy form a tassel-like uniform trim, like white like tiny teeth, and the steps in red, yellow, black and that viridian green, so exactly evocative of the 1940s, perfectly enshrine the past.

There is a innocent but knowing sexiness in the attraction’s website, and the actual experience does its best to perpetuate this, even down to the quality comfort food. All well worth a visit as a great example of VM that can be experienced and, of course, inspire.

Photographs: Annie Swift and Dreamland