The countdown to fun has begun at Wicksteed

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Staff at Wicksteed Park are busy preparing for the start of their summer season, which launches next weekend.

Features editor Joni Ager finds out about the work going on behind the scenes at the park.

Next Saturday Wicksteed Park will officially open for summer.

While the gates are open all year round for people to enjoy the playground and the park grounds, the rides and attractions only open in spring.

But those quiet winter months have been well used to prepare for the summer season, from testing the rides to planting new flowers and carrying out repairs and maintenance jobs.

Wicksteed managing director John Roberts said: “As soon as we close for the season we start thinking about the following year.

We have been planning for this summer for a long time now.”

Head of operations Michael Bush said: “We have certain projects each year that we are going to focus on. This year we have spent £22,000 on the paratroopers and the carousel, replacing parts and refurbishing them.

“We have also spent £20,000 on replacing the railway bridges.”

Every year all the rides are stripped, inspected and go through a thorough structural, electrical and mechanical inspection before they open for the season.

Then a third party comes to the park and will spend up to four weeks checking over the rides under the Amusement Device Inspection Procedures Scheme.

New additions to the park, the Magic Ice rink, Laser Xtreme and the Clown Coaster will be open for their first summer at Wicksteed, but the Nautic Jets will be decommissioned this year and will not be open.

Mr Roberts said: “It is an old ride, it came here in 1990 and we like to change things around.”

Wicksteed has been refurbishing and upgrading its railway for the past eight years and the work on the railway bridges is the latest stage of that.

But the 2,066 metres of track are inspected on a regular basis. Every operating day, a member of the team will walk the entire track before trains begin running.

As the opening weekend approaches, the lake is being filled. Over winter the water levels are allowed to fall so that staff can carry out any necessary maintenance but the lock gates on the Ise river have just been closed to divert water into the lake.

The gardens and grounds teams are also kept busy with jobs all year round.

Kevin Lenton, garden supervisor, said: “Next month I have got 13,000 bedding plants being delivered which have to be individually potted and we are hoping this season to grow 2,000 from seeds for the first time.

“We also do 50 hanging and wall baskets for the summer and we do other arrangements around the park.

“We are busy all the time but in the summer it peaks because we have everything happening at once.”

A huge part of the summer preparations is recruiting staff. The work force goes from around 50 employees over winter to 350 in the height of summer.

There are 150 seasonal jobs at Wicksteed this summer, some full-time and some part-time but all temporary.

Many applicants are students and some will do three or fours years in a row. Others are older and come back year after year to work at the park.

Mr Roberts said: “We had a different system this year. Normally people come in and apply for specific jobs but we did general interviews first this time which were all to do with personality.

“For every one job there were probably about 10 people applying, so this system worked really well. We lost about 20 per cent of people based on their responses to some standard questions.”

This weekend will be an induction and training weekend for the new recruits. They will have been assigned their jobs for the summer and will now be shown how to set up their ride or attraction, how to operate it and what to do in an emergency.

Mr Bush said: “No-one works on anything unless they have been trained. It sounds like a daunting responsibility but the procedures make it simple,”

The big event of the summer for Wicksteed is set to be its wartime weekend, which will be called Hope and Glory.

Taking place in June, there will be an RAF fly past and live military re-enactments.

There are also plans for a comic book themed event some time over the summer for comic fans.

WICKSTEED PARK