Our new monthly columnist is Alasdair McNee, the MD at Wicksteed Park, who will be writing all about the behind-the-scenes life of the popular family tourist attraction.
I feel in a somewhat unusual position as I sit down to write this, the first chapter of what I hope will be a popular insight into Wicksteed Park.
Unusual because I know that, whereas I am a relative newbie to the park, many of the people reading this column will have grown up with it as a central part of their lives.
You may have your own favourite carriage (maybe even a favourite seat) on the train and many of you will have fallen in love, attended events and regularly brought your children here.
But it is that special relationship between Wicksteed and the people of Kettering and further afield which makes my role as MD such an exciting and challenging one.
I want to continue to give you a park that you are proud of – and one that, as I have already discovered while travelling around the UK, prompts that starry-eyed response: “Ahhhh, Wicksteed Park... I love that place!”
The park is owned by a charitable trust, set up in 1916 by Charles Wicksteed to maintain his vision of inspiring and encouraging play as part of families’ health and well-being.
We have no external funding, so we can’t compete with the likes of Alton Towers.
But neither should we, because Charles Wicksteed’s unique place in the development of children’s play (and play equipment) and the wonderful heritage of the park makes it a place of worldwide importance and gives the Wicksteed Charitable Trust national significance.
Many of the things we associate with children’s outdoor play – the slides, the swings – can be traced right back to Wicksteed Park.
That is something I am very keen to build on and something that we should want to share with the whole country.
I love nothing more than walking around the place when I get a spare 20 minutes, it is truly spectacular.
But there is more to the park than wonderful countryside and we need to continue to improve and develop.
I’ve already spent the odd afternoon selling balloons, to give me a chance to talk to the people who use the park and get to know you and your expectations.
That includes the children, of course it does, because they are the people whose fond memories we want to hear in years to come.
We’ve appointed the park’s first community links manager – Charlotte Widgery – because we want to do more to engage people and get them actively involved in the park.
We’ve just launched a summer walks programme and we want to do lots more, both activity and education based, so the park becomes an even bigger focal point for the community.
We’ve just renovated the pavilion and been awarded just over £1m from the Heritage Lottery Fund – the first major external funding the park has ever received – to restore the lake, something I’ll talk about more another time.
So, I hope you can see there are exciting times ahead. Hopefully,as the weeks go by, this column will help you feel part of that and next time you are in the park, I might even stop you for a chat and you can buy a balloon off me!