Margate Caves reopen with emphasis on community

Words:
Isabelle Priest

Local consultation saw the refurbishment of a tourist attraction by Kaner Olette Architects acquire a dual role as a community resource that is addressing the social challenges of the area

The caves began life as a chalk mine.
The caves began life as a chalk mine. Credit: Kaner Olette Architects/Richard Chivers

Building: Margate Caves Project
Location: Margate, Kent
Architect: Kaner Olette Architects
Building type: visitor and community centre

Margate Caves has earned a place on this year’s MacEwen Awards shortlist as a community-led initiative to reopen the historic attraction to the public and engage the local people with its new community space and programme of workshops, events and volunteering. Judge Hana Loftus comments: ‘It’s originated from the community, rather than being imposed on it.’

The caves are supposed to have begun life as a chalk mine and had been open for visitors since 1863 but closed in 2004 due to safety concerns. Since 2011, campaigners determined to save the caves gained major grants from the Big Lottery Fund and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, boosted by local fundraising including a secret postcard auction and a crowdfunder campaign. The money raised has allowed the Margate Caves Community Education Trust to deliver modern health and safety standards for visitors, conserve the caves themselves and build a much-needed financially viable community space.  

  • Front view of the visitor centre.
    Front view of the visitor centre. Credit: Kaner Olette Architects/Richard Chivers
  • Community space seen from the rear garden.
    Community space seen from the rear garden. Credit: Kaner Olette Architects/Richard Chivers
  • A long single counter serves as reception, shop and café.
    A long single counter serves as reception, shop and café. Credit: Kaner Olette Architects/Richard Chivers
  • The community space can be divided in two.
    The community space can be divided in two. Credit: Kaner Olette Architects/Richard Chivers
  • Interpretation centre.
    Interpretation centre. Credit: Kaner Olette Architects/Richard Chivers
12345

An early relationship was established between architect and client. Kaner Olette was approached to develop some initial feasibility ideas which were undertaken for the cost of petrol. Alongside returning the caves to their historic role as a public attraction, the project has become a hub for volunteer training in Margate and for an activity programme that takes the caves out to the local community. There are workshops on graffiti, light, geology and painting conservation. The Caves Trust is introducing ‘loan boxes’ that schools and groups will be able to borrow to help them explore those ideas. The centre also holds drop-in family activities, special exhibitions and evening talks.

 

As part of its articles of association the trust promises low prices in the café and for hire of the community spaces. The caves had 5,000 visitors in the first two weeks of reopening – 1,000 of whom were local – and holds numerous events for groups of all ages: scout meetings, church-led addiction recovery meetings, book-binding classes and toddlers’ movement classes.


Click here to see the longlist and other shortlisted schemes

Credits

Client:The Margate Caves Community Education Trust
Architect / principal designer / contract administrator: Kaner Olette Architects
Planning department: Thanet District Council
Building control: MLM Building Control
Structural engineer: The Morton Partnership
Civil engineer: CTP Consulting Engineers
M & E: Hawden MEP
QS & project manager: Betteridge & Milsom
Geotechnical engineer: Graham Daws Associates & High Peak Geotechnical
Interpretation designer: Graphic Alliance
Project co-ordinator (non-technical): Legasee Educational Trust
Contractor: Breem Construction