A Huge Lift for Folkestone

4 Nov 2023
Jim Martin, Anita Jones and Tim Prater in Folkestone Leas Lift car

Folkestone’s Leas Lift is set to reopen in 2025 after securing £4.8m of support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, meaning the overall fundraising target of £6.6m has been reached.

The Leas Lift funicular in Folkestone is one of only three water-balanced lifts to survive in the UK, and will be restored thanks to National Lottery players. 

The Grade II* Listed at risk Leas Lift will now be brought back into public use with a varied programme of activities to educate, inspire, engage and serve the local community, as well as providing step-free access from the seafront to the town.

The campaign to save the nationally significant heritage asset, which is much loved by the local community, began in 2018 when volunteers came together to save the lift and ensure its future.

Cathy Beare, Chair of the Folkestone Leas Lift Company Charity, said:

“This is a huge win for us. We are thrilled to have secured support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund which unlocks further funding and allows us to work towards re-opening in 2025.  

“As a team, we have come a long way and I am very proud to chair a dedicated and passionate board of volunteer trustees that have brought the concept of operating Folkestone’s rare heritage water balance lift closer to reality. We can’t wait to welcome passengers back 140 years after it was first installed. People tell me the hard work starts now, although it certainly feels like we are well on the road to success.” 

Eilish McGuinness, Chief Executive of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:

“We are delighted to support the restoration of this rare surviving water lift, returning this beautiful and remarkable example of Victorian engineering to its original use connecting seafront and town and creating an anchor and sense of place and connection for the local Folkestone community and visitors.  This community-led scheme absolutely delivers our vision for heritage to be valued, cared for and sustained for everyone, now and in the future.”

One of only eight water balance cliff lifts built nationally, the Leas Lift is one of only three in the UK still operated by its original system, providing transport from the Leas to the seafront and Lower Coastal Park. The lift operates using water and gravity and is controlled from a small cabin at the top of the cliff. It has carried more than 36.4 million people since it opened in 1885, in a process that is especially energy efficient. The lift has a very small carbon footprint, as it emits no pollution and recycles all the water used to drive the cars.  

The lift was hugely popular in the Victorian era and operated almost continuously for over 130 years, closed only occasionally for repairs and during World War Two. The lift closed in 2016 due to safety fears and was placed on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register in 2018. It has since deteriorated further due to being out of operation and its beach-front location. A successful café was opened at the height of the pandemic in 2020, breathing life back into the space.

The campaign to restore the Leas Lift was boosted in recent months, with Folkestone & Hythe District Council granting planning permission to build a new, adjoining café which will help secure the long-term financial future of the lift. 

The site is due to become an event and community hub. Visitor facilities, such as the waiting room and ticket office, will be refurbished, while a glass window will be installed, allowing visitors the opportunity to view inside the pump room and its machinery and equipment.

James Walker-Osborn of the Folkestone Leas Lift Company Charity said:

“We are incredibly humbled by the support of the Folkestone community and businesses that have believed in us and supported us since 2017 when we first came together with a crazy idea that we could take this on. 

“The local support, as well as this huge boost from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and other key funders, takes us one giant step forward in the history of the Leas Lift. Once opened, we know it will have a positive impact on the community.”

In 2021, the lift received a £320,000 development grant from both the Heritage Fund and the Architectural Fund which has been utilised to further develop plans, including community engagement. 

Overall, £1.8 million has been raised which matches the £4.8 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Just under £1 million was received in Section 106 funding from Folkestone Harbour & Seafront Development Company, £660,000 came from Trusts and Foundations and a further £136,000 from the community, individuals and companies.  

Construction is due to begin in 2024 with the aim of reopening in 2025. For more information on the history of the Leas Lift and the campaign to reopen it, visit www.leaslift.co.uk

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