Leas Lift Renovation – Victorian Engineering in the 21st Century

There is a vast amount of working going into renovating the Leas Lift.  It will see this much-loved part of Folkestone’s history revitalised.  The Victorians engineered the funicular water lift to connect the upper promenade area of the Leas to the lower seafront.  There were originally 3 lifts along the cliffs; the existing one, one in front of The Metropole Hotel, and a further lift in Sandgate.  The surviving lift is fondly remembered by residents and many would love to see it in use again.

National Lottery heritage Funding

The Folkestone Leas Lift CIC, and the Friends Of The Leas Lift have done a lot to raise awareness and funds for the work that needs to be done.  They have been successful in securing £3.4 million from the Heritage Fund of the National Lottery to help support renovations.

The Lift has been included in a legal agreement called a Section 106 as part of the seafront development.  This is a commitment by Folkestone Harbour and Seafront Development Company (FH&SDC) specifying how much money they will provide to improve local infrastructure.  As well as contributing to the renovation of the Leas Lift,  GP facilities, schools, recreation, roads and other important community assets in the town are also specified.

There is an opportunity for the community to help raise funds with The Leas Lift, they run an annual Restaurant Month.  An entirely optional £1 can be added to the bills of diners in certain local restaurants.  This initiative was first run in 2018 and helped raise awareness as well as funds for the renovation of the Lift.  Folkelife met Engineering Director, Edwin Wealend, to find out what work needs to be done in order to get the lift operating again.

World’s slowest white-knuckle ride

“The Leas Lift has a rather complex, but fascinating braking system.  There are four different fail-safes; in case the cable should snap, there’s an ingenious clamping system, and there’s another device for over-speed and so on.  It’s a joke, but people used to call the Leas Lift the world’s slowest white-knuckle ride!  Anyone who’s been on the lift will know just how steep it is, and how important it is that these brakes work.  The Lift closed in early 2017 when the Health and Safety Executive deemed these brakes unsafe.  The amount of money initially thought needed to fix them was too much for the previous group of volunteers to raise.  They did a fantastic job in keeping the lift open and repairing what they could, but this was the last straw.  

“There is a new group of trustees in place who hold a wealth of expertise in engineering, heritage and renovation.  One of the things we will have to do is replace the braking system.  We need to preserve what’s there and also install the most discrete brakes making the Lift comply with current regulations.  The work is going to take time and money, much more than first anticipated, in order to make the site sustainable in the long term.  ACME; architects for the seafront development are kindly providing pro bono services in relation to expanding the footprint of the Lift site.  This will aid sustainability and support us through the planning stages. As part of this process we are reviewing the condition of the nearby Deck Chair Store, to see whether there is any potential for this to support the lift.”  

funding the leas lift renovation

“We need to strip down many parts of the lift to find out their current state, in order to find out what needs repairing. To do this, we will have to remove the carriages from the tracks.  They’ll be lifted off with a crane and stored carefully so we can inspect them in detail.  We need to work on the braking system, the tracks and also the wheel that controls the carriages.  We can only inspect them properly by removing them from the site.”

Leas Lift Vintage Holiday
Leas Lift Present Day
Lift Carriages Credit Phil Blades
Leas Lift Wheel
Leas Lift Internal

Reginald Pope Architect Leas Lift
Leas Lift Cafe Interrior

inspiring future generations of engineers

“People will see a lot of work happening at the Lift before it becomes functional again.  We have received a grant of £344,828 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and this development phase gives the Folkestone Leas Lift charity two years to complete further works, engaging with the community, and to raise further funding of £400,000.  The team can then apply to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the second phase grant to develop and restore the Leas Lift in its entirety. This is an exciting and major step forward in securing the future of the Leas Lift.”

The project, made possible by The National Lottery Heritage Fund as well as the contributions from the community and Folkestone businesses will help to secure the Leas Lift for future generations.

In addition to the £400,000 the charity still needs to raise, The Folkestone Harbour & Development Company has committed funding to the lift as part of the planning application for the seafront development.  Both they and Folkestone & Hythe District Council are committed to aligning the release of this extra funding to support the second phase of the National Lottery Heritage Fund application. The charity is also grateful for the support from the Architectural Heritage Fund in the form of a £15,000 grant.

transport of its time

There is plenty of nostalgia around the Leas Lift and holiday memories of years gone by.  Local fundraising has also helped generate funds needed for the renovation of the Lift.

“It’s no good relying on passengers spending a pound on a sunny day to keep the Lift alive.  If we get National Lottery Heritage Funding then we can build in an education plan to show how the Lift works. The National Lottery Heritage Funding process adds significant cost in itself, including demonstrating how we benefit more of the community than before. However, the process is helpful as the panel making the decision will want comfort that the plan is financially sustainable. Having said that, I’m an engineer so I’m looking forward to inspiring the future generations of engineers!”

Carbon neutral transport

“The Lift is pretty much carbon neutral, and with the right funding it can be totally carbon neutral.  It works on gravity and water so it’s the ideal form of transport for the 21st Century.  There are plans to improve wheelchair and pushchair access to the Lift on both levels.  The Lift, whose architect was Reginald Pope, who also designed the Leas Pavilion, has Grade II* listed status.  This means we have to preserve what’s there, and make sure it complies with current standards.  For example, the oak sleepers are not very weather resistant.  We’ll look into whether we replace like with like, or if there’s an alternative that helps make the Lift sustainable for the future. 

“This is such an exciting project to work on, but it’s going to take time.  People won’t see action immediately!  I really feel though, that we’re getting somewhere and when the Leas Lift renovation is finished, it’s going to be a fantastic heritage resource.  It’s also going to be ready for the 21st Century.”

Discover more about Folkestone below

News from Folkestone Harbour and Seafront Development Company
Putters – Café on Beachside Beside The Sea
Renovating Folkestone Harbour – A Labour of Love
Shoreline – The Place To Live

Sign up to our Newsletter