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Janet Fielding - Project Motorhouse

Home / Our Community / People of Ramsgate / Janet Fielding - Project Motorhouse
How long have you lived in Ramsgate?
Since 2008, can’t believe it’s been 7 years.

Why did you start helping the local community?
I blame my local residents association. I lived in Liverpool Lawn when I first arrived and it has a great community feeling. All the houses face each other so you do meet people easily. I saw something that really needed doing.

What are your earliest memories of Ramsgate?
I’d never been to Thanet before I decided to move to the coast. But I wanted to move to a seaside town with sandy beaches and within easy reach of London. A friend told me about Ramsgate so I decided to take a look, I’d never heard of it. I saw that wonderful harbour and it was love at first sight.

What are your ambitions?
I would like to see a more prosperous town with much more opportunity for young people. I think it is sad that so many of them feel they have to leave Thanet to achieve anything. It’s a wonderful beautiful place. But it hasn’t always moved with the times and it needs to. I would like to see Thanet introduce a version of Grotbusters.

What are you currently working on or towards in Ramsgate?
I am working on Project MotorHouse, turning the old motor museum into the type of modern facilities Ramsgate is woefully short of. When it is finished, it will provide a lift from the port level to the cliff top. There will be an outdoor cinema/theatre in the gardens, which will use Bluetooth technology. It will have a flexible theatre that can expand into the function room and will hold up to 350 people. There will be another smaller function room, offices, bars, a restaurant, a café and three cinemas. We won’t run the businesses ourselves, we will get in anchor tenants with a good track record to run the cinemas, the restaurant etc. It not only spreads our risk but it means local youths have a chance to learn from successful businesses.

Why did you start this current project?
Thanet District Council had closed the door on the building and were leaving it. The gardens were unsightly and used for anti-social behaviour. People were breaking in and lighting fires. If that building falls or is burnt down then Ramsgate has a huge infrastructure problem. It holds up the road and the Promenade.

I approached Thanet District Council in 2010. They told me to go away and put together both an influential board and a business plan, which showed the building could run without revenue funding, so I did. Luckily, I had been Head of Finance at a charity with a million pound turnover.

It took 3 years and £10K worth of legal fees for us to sort out the option and transfer deed with Thanet District Council. I was determined to make it work. Then I got cancer and my Dr Who chums rallied round and helped fundraise.

I had no idea the project would take so much work or time. I’ve been told that Dreamland has taken 13 years. The MotorHouse better not take 13 years. But I have been working on it for 5 years now.

Where did you get the idea from to start this?
It came from two sources. Thanet District Council insisted on a business plan that meant the building was self-supporting. The depreciation alone is nearly £100K a year and we estimate it will cost another £250-300K a year to run. We knew that the building had failed to be self-supporting with both as a concert hall and then as a motor museum. We had to spread the risk so that we were not dependent on any one-income stream. It also means we can give young people an experience of different enterprises.

We then talked to folk in the local residents associations and incorporated their suggestions. The only problem was when I called the site by its proper title – The West Cliff Hall and Gardens – no one knew what I meant. Everyone called it the old motor museum. So I got together a focus group of young people and one of them called it, The MotorHouse. That’s it we said. The community consultation we held in 2011 gave our ideas the thumbs up so we have ploughed on. Turns out, I’m as obstinate as my mother.

What can Ramsgate look forward to from you in the future?
I do not want to run The MotorHouse when it opens, but I’d love to continue working with the Ellington & Hereson School (now Royal Harbour Academy). I am descended from convicts transported to Australia. The convict sailing ships used to sit off Ramsgate in the Downs waiting for the wind to change. I would like to build a replica convict ship for the harbour and have a museum about transportation.

How do you feel your contribution has helped or made a difference to Ramsgate?
We have raised about £275K so far and we have propped the frame of the building, the building is now secure and we have stopped people lighting fires in it. Steel shutters had to be made because some people were breaking in from the terrace side.

We held a competitive tender and appointed award winning East Kent architect Guy Hollaway to do the design. We are nearly ready to go out to public consultation on the design. The first design was a bit too expensive so we needed to adjust it and redo the costings.

Nevertheless, the thing that has given me the biggest buzz to date has been working with and getting to know some of the students from Ellington & Hereson School (now Royal Harbour Academy). They have done fantastic work in helping clear the gardens and they did a wonderful fundraising show called Bringing It Back based around the history of The MotorHouse.

Where do you see yourself helping the community in a years time?
I am hoping we will be starting construction and that will probably take a lot of my focus, but we have just applied for funding for a big project we want to do with the Royal Harbour Academy and the SEAS Photography Archive. Jo Mapp will be leading that one, she has put together an incredible team of artist mentors so fingers crossed we get the money.

Interview by Dean Williams, Technical Officer
Interview Date: 27th August 2015