Boss of new Wicksteed company has high hopes for park's future

He promised more would be revealed very soon

Wednesday, 22nd July 2020, 7:00 am
Lockdown meant Wicksteed Park Limited was losing money "very, very quickly" according to new company director, Lee Scragg
Lockdown meant Wicksteed Park Limited was losing money "very, very quickly" according to new company director, Lee Scragg

The managing director of the new Wicksteed Park company has promised there will soon be some "exciting" announcements about events at the much-loved park.

It's hoped the Kettering attraction will fully re-open next year after Wicksteed Park Limited, which operated the park's leisure facilities, went into administration.

A public appeal, and some lottery cash, has now raised more than £400,000 to help cover the park's operating costs.

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Lee Scragg, who was a director of the previous company and is now managing director of the new firm Wicksteed Trading Limited, said there are some exciting announcements that will be coming soon about events that should generate more income for the park - and promised more would be revealed very soon.

The old firm's slide into administration came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the country was going into lockdown on March 23, which meant Wicksteed Park missed out on the spring, Easter and early summer season this year.

Mr Scragg said lockdown was the main cause of the old firm's downfall.

He said: “It happened at exactly the wrong time, if it had been in September then we probably wouldn’t have ended up in administration.”

Mr Scragg said the leisure industry operates through peaks and troughs of business. He said: “The first peak is Easter and we hope to generate enough income to carry us through to summer and then the income through summer carries us through to Christmas.

“The income generated in Easter is used to get rides ready and inspected and get safety certificates.

“We missed all of that revenue so we were struggling for funding to get ready for summer.”

The company applied to banks for funding under the government’s emergency scheme but Mr Scragg said: “Unfortunately the last two years of trading we have had substantial losses, so we didn’t qualify.”

He added that speculation of mismanagement was "incorrect". He said: “There’s no missing money. With administration, what happens is they go into every single penny.

“Each director gets investigated and if there was anything untowards, that would be highlighted by the administrators. It’s a very thorough investigation, full disclosure.”

He said the losses over previous years had been down to investment in the park, which had affected visitor numbers while the area was a “building site” but now it was all finished, 2020 should have been a perfect year.

Mr Scragg said: “We should have been going into a really positive year, it would have been a really good year, we had perfect weather over Easter.

“This is the sort of weather our industry dreams of.”

However, lockdown meant the park was shut and with no funding available to them. Mr Scragg said: “It put us in a position where we were very, very quickly running out of money.”

Wicksteed Park’s land is owned by a charitable trust which maintains the park’s free open access for the public. It is funded by a limited company which runs the leisure facilities in the park.

In earlier interviews, Oliver Wicksteed, the great-grandson of park founder Charles Wicksteed, said the park costs around £110,000 a month to maintain without the rides.

Mr Scragg said the annual insurance bill “could buy a semi-detached house” and that other costs include maintaining all the play equipment, grounds, animal care and more.

Mr Scragg said: “It’s very, very easy to start adding bills to understand it costs over a million each year.

“The charity keeps the park open for free access with no help from the government or council. The limited company is the only income and has to make enough money to give to the charity.

“This is not a business that makes a huge amount of money. There’s no big bonuses, we work to ensure we make enough money to keep the grounds open to the community for free.”

Mr Scragg said Wicksteed Park Ltd’s administration was the hardest day in his career and said telling the staff they were being made redundant was the hardest thing he has ever had to do.

He said: “That spurs me on, going forward. I want to make sure we have stability and get back to similar levels of employment.”

Looking to the future, Mr Scragg said the new company was hoping the park will be able to fully re-open next Easter but this will depend on the government’s advice and social distancing guidelines.

The new company is also honouring any events that have been postponed.

Mr Scragg said: “We are giving everybody the option of moving dates and the new company is honouring all the deposits.

“If social distancing ends and the government lets us, we will run events on their dates but otherwise we are moving them.”

Honouring the deposits is a big financial commitment.

But Mr Scragg said: “It’s a difficult decision to make but it’s the right decision to make. It’s not just about the money, I don’t want to be the person who tells a bride ‘we cannot do that’.

“The right decision is to honour them, the financial decision comes second.”

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