Planning request made for workshop, art gallery, accommodation and more at former Club Caprice – The Isle Of Thanet News
Proposals for the transformation of the former Caprice nightclub in Cliftonville into a neon-making workshop and multi-generational live-work unit have now been submitted to Thanet Council.
Owner Kerry Ryan, who purchased the site in 2019, plans to create a flexible-use site with an art gallery, art education space, community space, wedding venue for rent, residential housing temporary and use by artists in residence. There would also be a 24-hour security guard presence at high-value art exhibits.
The combination of uses will create a new cultural space on the border of Margate where it meets Cliftonville, providing opportunities for educational and vocational training. Each space is accessible through a different existing entrance.
Kerry, who hails from the Isle of Dogs in east London, creates neon installations for a host of clients and artists including Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Peter Saville and Cerith Wyn Evans.
Now the Neon Specialists boss, who has bases in London and Miami, is creating the gallery and his studio in the original ballroom (later nightclub, pool table and arcade spaces) as well than living space. Plans for a roof terrace were withdrawn during the pre-bid phase.
Kerry, who has five daughters, has been creating neon for over 35 years and working for himself since he was 18.
He started as an apprentice at the age of 15. Speaking to The Isle of Thanet News when he first bought the venue, Kerry said: ‘It was with Truman at Brick Lane. I was an apprentice in screen printing but they also had a neon department.
“I taught myself and went to the London School of Print at Elephant and Castle. I set up on my own at 18 and then the kids came so I had to work even harder!
“I’ve always rented a studio in London, but now that I’ve bought (Club Caprice) I don’t need to.
“I used to come to Margate as a kid and always remember the donut stand at Bem Boms. From ten years ago to now, there has been a transformation in Margate, it has become a New York City from a downtown core.
“I have friends here and I meet more and more people here all the time.
“The main reason I bought it is for the view and the sea. I’ll have a studio directly overlooking that and I can just walk out of my house and go swimming in the sea.”
Turner Contemporary’s first neon sign was also made by Kerry for artist Sir Michael Craig-Martin.
In November 2019, Kerry exhibited a stunning neon display and video installation at the former Artgame gallery on Margate’s Marine Drive as part of a six-month residency.
Planning documents filed with Thanet Council state: “The architectural vision is to retain, repair and reveal the beautiful historic architecture, retaining the exposed brick walls and floors. The ceilings, the ribs (mouldings on the beams) and the cornices of the main building will be faithfully restored.
“Slight minor alterations will complement the historic architectural design with a simple palette of traditional materials. The proposed layout retains the open character and form of the building’s historic plan, and does not subdivide the front space.
“It is also proposed that the existing grassed public open space be landscaped into a sculpture garden with pathways and benches.”
The neon workshop will be used to make neon works and hold education workshops and provide a training facility. The public will be able to come and watch the neon lights being made.
The proposed flexible space on the ground floor, lower ground and upper ground will be a live work unit with three types of spaces:
More public, including a large open space on the ground floor.
Shared by all spaces including a basement kitchen and associated stairs
More private, including spaces for residential purposes where Kerry, her daughters and grandchildren will stay. This area will be closely interconnected with the more public parts of the flexible site.
The most public spaces of the two middle bays will have generous floor-to-ceiling height with stunning sea views over the old Lido. This will serve as an art gallery, educational space, conferences, community events and/or wedding venue for rent. Disabled toilets will be installed.
A timber stud wall will be introduced between the two north bays, creating part of the multi-generational living space in the north bay and providing a wall to hang artwork for exhibits.
Outdoor plantings and sculptures are also planned. Disabled parking will be included near the site entrance.
Between 2 and 4 people will be hired at the neon workshop, which will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. The living/working space is expected to accommodate between four and six residents and have a visitor capacity of approximately 220 per day with the same opening hours as the workshop. A liquor license will be required.
The planning documents state, “The historic architecture will be restored and celebrated in this sensitive renovation, and bring the derelict building back to life for the community to enjoy. With the exception of the public facade, the additions are designed with a distinct material palette that is easily reversible and brings in a new layer of history.
“The historic architecture will be retained and celebrated in the restoration of this derelict building, bringing it back to life and the uses for which it was originally designed for local and wider communities and for future generations.
“The outcome of the project will have a significant and positive impact on its setting and may well be the catalyst for development in the direct and wider areas of this end of Margate and Cliftonville.”
Once completed, the venue will be available for party hire and there are plans to involve schools in the neon workshops.
It is hoped that the place could be open in mid-2023.
The Grade II listed building forms part of the Margate Conservation Area.
Paragon Court, a listed four-storey Georgian terrace, was built around 1830 and is located on Fort Paragon and the site is part of this list and the building in the basement.
Historical maps show that there has been a building at the location of the club dating to historical maps from 1891 and 1904. The building is believed to have been used as an entrance to Paragon Court and as a dining and entertainment area. Paragon Court consists of a number of converted apartments.
The app site operated like the old nightclub, 1960s Club Caprice. Later dubbed Jurassic Park by some regulars – due to its “more mature” clientele – the club operated until March 2016, when which it was known as New Club Caprice.
The club’s site then sat empty until it was taken over by Kerry in June 2019.
Thanet council has yet to make a decision on the request.