Kettering MP to bring Wicksteed Park's plight to the attention of the Government

Philip Hollobone said he was "very sorry" to hear of the park's slide into administration

By Sam Wildman
Tuesday, 16th June 2020, 5:01 pm

The financial woes of Kettering's beloved Wicksteed Park will be brought to the attention of the Government tomorrow (Wednesday).

The town's MP Philip Hollobone is set to meet the Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden to highlight the latest developments after Wicksteed Park Ltd, the company which runs the park's leisure facilities, went into administration last night. In March he had written to the heritage minister about the difficulties the park was facing.

With barely any revenue for months because of the Covid-19 crisis and having posted a £820,000 loss last year, the huge financial strain has seen 115 jobs lost. The open space at the park will remain free and open.

Wicksteed Park.

Conservative Mr Hollobone, who retained his seat at the general election last year, said: "I am obviously very sorry to hear this news and hope that the charitable trust is able to find a way forward once the severe revenue impact of the pandemic has abated.

"I understand that plans are being developed to streamline the trading arm with a view to relaunching in spring next year.

"All of us who live locally will want this to succeed if at all possible, especially as Wicksteed approaches its centenary year."

Mr Hollobone suggested a possible way forward by making the "green bit" of the park the subject of a joint operation with the new unitary North Northamptonshire super council, which has responsibility for the borough and county parks in the north of the county.

Philip Hollobone.

He said this could minimise costs and allow Wicksteed Park to sort out a "sensible" future business plan for the attractions.

The land is owned separately by the Wicksteed Charitable Trust which is appealing for public donations and backing a new company formed by a small number of employees.

Oliver Wicksteed, chairman of Wicksteed Charitable Trust, said: "We are all devastated by what has happened and the effect this will have on our staff, their families and our visitors.

"We fully appreciate the effect this decision will have on staff members who have already been through months of uncertainty and difficulty due to Covid-19 and we are working hard to ensure they have access to the support and advice they need at this time."

The chairman added: "The new company, funded by the trust, is a much streamlined business aimed at getting the park through to next spring when it can hopefully start to re-open fully but we need people’s help, support and understanding in order to try and make that happen.

“The costs of the old business were crippling and could not be sustained with the huge loss of revenue already suffered this year. Even if park rides opened in July, the costs of social distancing measures and the reduced capacity at which the park would have had to operate, would have meant it was unlikely to be financially viable.”

The park has struggled to make money in recent years and Mr Wicksteed revealed that 400,000 out of 850,000 annual visits generate no income for the park because it is free to access.

He said: "If we want it to stay for many millions of people in the future to enjoy then we need to find a way to protect and preserve it."

A Kettering Council spokesman said they will continue to work with the charitable trust to help the park flourish again.

The spokesman said: "We should stress that Wicksteed Park is not going to disappear as a result of their trading company going into administration. The open space elements of the park remains free and open to casual use, and the charitable trust is still in being and actively planning to re-start the business as soon as it can, with a new trading structure and a new business plan.

"The council has been and will continue to work closely with the trust in setting up a new trading organisation, to ensure that Wicksteed Park gets back to being a flourishing local and regional attraction as soon as practicable.

"We fully support the trust’s aspirations to keep the wider park open to the public. We are deeply sorry to see the jobs loss that going into administration involves and we stand ready to provide help and assistance to those affected."

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Wicksteed Park company goes into administration