First a note from Chair Cathy Beare about her journey on this project
My journey with Leas Lift began in 2017 when I was asked to join a fledgling board that was tasked to take on this project which would have funding. From there a new board was formed in 2018 with the remit of bringing the lift back into operation with funding from an S106 agreement relating to the development on the seafront.
During the first year, it was evident from engineering surveys that the funding designated for the Lift’s restoration (S106 funding) wasn’t enough. There were challenges, including limited space on the site to generate extra income. Relying solely on revenue from transportation was risky. As the reopening was delayed, repair costs rose, making it necessary to consider expanding the site.
Many of the original board members did not have the time or appetite for this. Temporarily, I took over as Chair and am the only member of the original team.
At this point much of the funding available seemed outside our reach. We considered how to embark upon this challenge and were advised that the Heritage Lottery Fund was a good fit, though they were just about to close to new applications for a period to rebrand.
With a new goal to raise funds and keeping a watching eye on a deteriorating site, we sought to expand the board and form a group of trusted advisers. This was the toughest point because we had to build the team and credibility. Huge credit is due to the team on the board today who joined whilst we had this level of uncertainty. At times the task felt daunting but we persisted.
The rebranded National Lottery Heritage Fund re-opened in 2019 and, using £10,000 provided by Folkestone & Hythe District Council and other funds from community donations, a tender process to appoint consultants to support us commenced.
This application is significant – it requires architects designs and a detailed business plan and took some time to prepare. Our March 2020 application was blighted by Covid as we submitted two days before it closed to new applications whilst they focused on existing projects in progress.
During this period we opened the café and carried out further feasibility work with a grant from the Architectural Heritage Fund. We were more than ready by February 2021 and submitted our application as soon as the National Lottery Heritage Fund reopened to new applications.
Having been granted a development grant from National Lottery Heritage Fund in September 2021, the professional team were recruited and work commenced. A key element of this work, alongside finalising designs to submit for planning permission, was to fundraise a significant sum to match the request to National Lottery Heritage Fund. Many Trusts and Foundations had specific criteria and windows within which to apply which is why we allowed 18 months in our programme to apply for the delivery grant from National Lottery Heritage Fund that we have just achieved.
During this time various economic pressures increased the cost of the project; we doubled the fundraising target and brought it in within the original deadline. The good news is that alongside S106 funding, we raised a further £800,000 (October 2023).
With the news that the National Lottery Heritage Fund has awarded the sum we applied for, we are delighted that we have the funds to complete the project and re-open in 2025. If there was ever a group of people that deserve this success it’s this one; leading a team like this is a real honour.
See below for some Frequently Asked Questions, that we are pleased we can address with some level of confidence as a result of our fundraising success.
Why should the Leas Lift be saved?
The Leas Lift is a grade II* listed funicular railway that carries passengers between the seafront and the promenade in Folkestone, Kent. Originally installed in 1885, it is one of the oldest water lifts in the UK. Once restored, the Folkestone Leas Lift will be one of only three remaining water-balanced lifts in the country.
As a result of being a rare and remarkable survival of our heritage, Leas Lift was placed on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register in 2019. The Lift has been a sad sight since it closed in 2016 and we have discovered with assistance from Historic England how special and rare the Lift is to our heritage.
“It is one of only eight water balance cliff lifts in the country, of which only three operate using their original system. It retains its original engineering system, including its 1890 reciprocating pumps and the only working band brake in a funicular railway worldwide” Isabelle Ryan, Assistant Inspector, Historic England.
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 a process that is especially energy efficient. The lift has a very small carbon footprint and recycles all of the water used to drive the cars.
The volunteer team behind The Folkestone Leas Lift CIO (set up in 2018) received a £320,000 development grant from both the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Architectural Heritage Fund. This phase of work commenced in Autumn 2021 through to Spring 2023.
The Lift is at the heart of Folkestone and is much loved by the community. During 2020 an online consultation resulted in 2,548 responses. A recurrent comment was that people can no longer walk up the footpaths connecting the Coastal Park to the top of the Leas due to ill health, disabilities, or transporting small children. It became clear the Folkestone community loves the Lift and needs transportation from the Leas to the beach.
How will the Leas Lift be restored?
The Folkestone Leas Lift Company Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) is embarking on a £6.7 million transformational project to repair and conserve Leas Lift, bringing it back into public use and launching a vibrant and varied programme of activities to educate, inspire, engage and serve the local community, and provide step-free access from the seafront to the town.
Our project, Restoring Folkestone’s Gem for the Community, will see:
Who is behind the restoration of the Leas Lift?
A Community Interest Company [CIC] was set up in 2018, registered at Companies House under company number 11145968. A CIC is a particular type of limited company which pays corporation tax and the one we set up existed to benefit the community rather than private shareholders.
The CIC was closed when we converted to a Charitable Incorporated Organisation [CIO], in January 2022. This is a charity registered with The Charities Commission No.1197324 and meant we were eligible to apply for funding to more Trusts and Foundations. Setting up a CIO requires meeting the requirements of the Charity Commission. We believe this charitable structure will best serve the interests of the Leas Lift and as a result the wider Folkestone community.
Within our articles it states that “Our intention is to restore and then maintain and operate the Leas Lift for the benefit of the local community and visitors to preserve this historic water powered cliffside funicular railway and to introduce the history of the lift to the public.”
Who is on the board of the Folkestone Leas Lift Company?
We have a committed volunteer board of trustees, which has grown since 2018 into a strong team who give their time for free and are dedicated to bringing back the Leas Lift for future generations. More detail on who we are, and a little of our backgrounds – from finance to engineering – can be found here. We are always keen to hear from people who may have capacity to bring to the board.
How are you engaging with the local community?
Community is at the heart of what we do, the Board was formed on the back of the hard work of the Friends of the Leas Lift who continue to be supportive of the work we do.
We have engaged with thousands of local people through the development phase, which saw the development of an outline plan for the lift and securing funding.
Activities already delivered include public consultation activities (online and in-person) and bespoke engagement projects for targeted groups, which we co-created and produced in collaboration with local partners, including Age UK, Touchbase, Nepalese Community Centre, Beacon School, and Strange Cargo.
As the project progresses into the next phase – which will see outline plans developed, leading to construction – we will continue this engagement work. With the lift’s reopening, we will commence our on-site engagement offer, including exhibitions, events and activities. We’d love to hear from any people or groups interested in helping us plan and deliver future engagement activities.
What is Folkestone & Hythe District Council relationship to this project?
The council hasn’t owned or operated the Leas Lift for some time. They have been supporters of the project from the very beginning, and in 2023 supported our project by granting the needed planning permission to restore a Grade II* listed building and to build a new café. Additional land has been provided from the council for the extension. In 2019 a grant of £10,000 helped to support the business plan.
The Earl of Radnor, through the Folkestone Estate, is in the process of gifting the Leas Lift and lands to the charity [Oct 2023]. The council is relinquishing land currently held under lease back to the Folkestone Estate so that this can also be transferred to us, to allow space for the extension.
Up to this point we have declined taking ownership until funding was certain.
We are grateful for their support.
How have donations been used?
We have raised £1.8 million which matches the £4.8 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund that enables the work to commence in earnest. With just under £1 million coming from S106 funding, the remaining £660,000 came from Trusts and Foundations and £136,000 from community, individuals and companies.
Prior to this our organisation has raised just under £35,000 which contributed towards:
In 2019, a £10,000 grant from FHDC helped to fund the National Lottery Heritage Fund application. It costs money to raise money and we have needed to contract a few freelance experts to support the work of the Trustees.
Sir Roger De Haan, through his charities and the Folkestone Harbour & Seafront Development Company, has donated, including via a section 106 agreement, upwards of £1 million towards the project.
Whilst we have a wide range of skills, there are times when we need to contract expertise and resource.
We have had fantastic support from the community and couldn’t be where we are today without your donations and your social media interaction to help raise awareness!
Local companies including Swiss Re, Hinges & Brackets, Sean Davey Electrics, Folkestone Hythe & District Hotel & Catering Association and Saga have generously donated. Please think of us when you are considering charities to support in the future, including using the lift for your corporate entertaining once we reopen.
Trusts and Foundations that have supported the project include:
The National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Wolfson Foundation, The Architectural Heritage Fund, The Pilgrim Trust, The Headley Trust, The Rochester Bridge Trust, The Swire Charitable Trust, The John Swire 1989 Charitable Trust, The Frank Brake Charitable Trust, The Charles Hayward Foundation, The Aurelius Charitable Trust, The Pamela Champion Foundation and The Ian Askew Charitable Trust.
Will the café continue to operate on the site?
We opened a café during 2020, which may have seemed a crazy idea during a pandemic. Before the café was opened, the lower station building was a magnet for vandalism and graffiti – a lived in building is a building loved, is a building lasting. The café effectively pays a rent to the Leas Lift and we are very grateful to Jamie and Emily and their team who have made it such a success.
We are working towards securing a site nearby so that the café can continue to operate while we restore the Leas Lift.
Please continue to support us by using the café. As we work towards re-opening there will be more customer offerings available – watch this space! Once the lift has re-opened our new café will become a fantastic hub for events and for the community.
What are the next steps?
There is a massively detailed programme in place. The creation of a business plan, design, planning permission and extensive surveys to ascertain the condition of the engineering have taken place and inform the future plans.
Next steps include:
Construction and engineering works is scheduled to commence in Summer 2024 with a view to opening in Spring 2025.
Why does the restoration require such significant funding?
It is a complex project and we wanted to ensure that we sympathetically refurbished the site and bring it into the 21st Century, providing access for all needs as well as meeting health and safety and conservation requirements.
Expanding the site is important to the Lift’s long term financial health.
The engineering works; sheave wheel, tracks, sleepers, water tanks and much of the building in this time has deteriorated. Alongside this the war in Ukraine and Brexit have added to inflationary pressures that have yet to abate.
All aspects have been costed by quantity surveyors or relevant engineering experts. We have estimated known unknowns to minimise risk and included the level of contingency you would expect with a project of this magnitude.
At our core is inclusivity and many funders have this as a requirement. A budget is set aside to deliver this work over a four year period.
We continue to rely on a volunteer board that has contributed significant time and expertise. Many of the consultants that are commissioned are working for fees below market rate, or giving more time than they would normally do for a commercial project.
The development phase spend was £320,000 – slightly below budget and on programme. We can do this…
Overall an added benefit of having funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund is their process, scrutiny and expertise. Their backing has given us confidence.
How can I help?
We are always looking for support, including financially. Further donations will allow us to bring elements of our project forward, such as engaging a new paid position as CEO, involving them in the project sooner. You can contact us anytime at
Interested in volunteering or have an idea for a fundraiser? Are you looking for paid work, perhaps tendering for elements of the restoration? Please use the same email in the first instance.