Wicksteed Park back open to celebrate 100th anniversary after rollercoaster of a year

The park will reopen its campsite on Friday, May 21 and all but two of its attractions on Saturday, May 22

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 3:15 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 4:14 pm

Wicksteed Park is ready to welcome paying guests back after what must be one of the most turbulent years in the hugely popular Kettering destination's history.

Just less than eleven months ago, on June 15 2020, people were stunned by the news that the park's commercial arm had gone into administration with many staff made redundant and seasonal staff laid off.

In recent months the park has received hundreds of thousands of pounds in emergency grants and funding boosts, as well as thousands of pounds in donations from local people to help it through the pandemic.

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Rachael Harris paints the Ladybird rollercoaster
Rachael Harris paints the Ladybird rollercoaster

Now park bosses are promising that the new pared down business will keep the park going as it recovers from the double effect of going bust and Covid.

Rachel James, Wicksteed Park’s head of sales and marketing, said: “The last year has been a very difficult one for the park but thanks to a lot of hard work, including the support of volunteers and the local community, we are not only still here but are making plans for an exciting future and re-opening our attractions is just the start of that.

"Everyone at the park has been working incredibly hard to get everything ready for The Thrill zone opening and we can’t wait for people to start enjoying themselves on the rides once more."

Wicksteed Park is making the final preparations for the major milestone, with the re-opening of rides and attractions in The Thrill zone on Saturday (May 22).

Rachel James Wicksteed Park’s head of sales and marketing

Although the mono-rail, Clip 'n' Climb, and the go karts have been removed, with the Rush zip wire and abseiling platform to go soon, visitors will once again be able to enjoy their favourites, such as the Rocky River Falls, Paratrooper, Dodgems and the Pinfari rollercoaster, which has been refurbished and renamed Dinosaur Valley.

With the well-loved attractions opening, the park's 30 rides and attractions will join those already open, including the refurbished Meerkat Manor, the Wicksteed Park Railway, Sway Rider, Mini Rangers Landrover cars, and the traditional Carousel, which have been enjoyed by visitors since re-opening on April 17.

The Laser Maze and Wicky’s Play Factory have yet to have an re-opening date due to the Covid restrictions.

Attractions that cost extra on top of the wristband and tickets system have been removed as well as 'staff heavy' attractions.

The boats for log flume Rocky River Falls are wheeled out

Ms James said: "It's a new model. We want to ensure that the rides can be included in the wristband. They (the racing cars) were incredibly staff heavy using six members of staff. The cars ran on diesel and the environmental cost and maintenance costs were huge.

"Another huge part of the model is reducing out risk. We are running much more efficiently.

"Since last June we have been working on a skeleton staff. Some older members of staff are back. We have seasonal staff so we will be ready for the summer."

And it's been a team effort to get the park spick and span ready for the opening. An in-house team designed and rebuilt the more accessible Meerkat Manor and managing director Lee Scragg rolled up his sleeves to ready the attractions.

Elliot Lewer polishes one of 'Mr Wicksteed's cars

Rachel James said: "Myself and Lee were at the bottom of the log flume - we literally mucked in cleaning the Rocky River. We want to be helping the team and bringing it all in-house.

Rollercoaters have been re-painted and spruced up. Rides that lay idle last summer have been maintained, sanded, oiled and refurbished.

Volunteers have given hundreds of hours to keep the park looking smart, from litter picking to gardening.

Tracey Clarke, community and heritage manager, said: "The volunteers have been instrumental in looking after the flowerbeds, planting seeds, painting and cleaning.

"We couldn't have done it without them, it's incredible the time and talent that has been given. We have 120 registered volunteers and have 45 coming in each week. It's exceptional."

The park has plans to hold a 100th birthday celebration re-opening weekend to coincide with the start of May half-term on Saturday, May 29, with a jazz band, photo opportunities, boats and competitions.

Rhys Woolf with Water Chute boat - that has been refurbished

To mark the park's big anniversary, shows will return to the Edwardian pavilion with 'Songs of the Century' - a daytime show starting in September.

The pavilion, built in 1922, is currently undergoing refurbishment using the £1.78 million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for its @play project.

As well as the restoration of the fountains and balustrade the gardens will be returned to pedestrians, while in the building the Captain's Lounge will offer a multi-functional space and venue affording panoramic views of the rolling 147 acres of parkland.

The refurbishment carries on from the £2 million spent by the trust in 2018 on the 'Historic Heart' programme of restoration and the £3 million restoration project of the lake started in 2015 largely funded by the Wicksteed Charitable Trust, with the help of £1,046,900 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and donations from the then Northamptonshire County and Kettering Borough councils.

To reduce risk to the park, catering has been out sourced to local providers in partnerships.

The summer music and comedy events featuring Craig David, UB40, and McFly and Comedy in the Park are being promoted by M&B using the park as an open-air theatre venue - Wicksteed Open Air Theatre.

The park has outsourced its car parking operation it to a private company with the new barrier-free system to help aid traffic flow in and out of the park and along Barton Road.

The simplified system for ride tickets introduced during the park’s limited opening last summer will also be retained, meaning tickets will be one ticket per ride, priced at £2.50.

As in previous years, the park is planning to fully open seven days a week during May half term and the summer holidays.

Ride wristbands are being held at 2019 prices - £20 for children and £17 for adults. The campsite is reopening on Friday, May 21

Ms James added: "We have some exciting plans for the park. We are incredibly excited about the new attraction and will release more details soon, but for now we hope people will have fun trying to guess what it might be.”

Debris and logs have had to be removed from the landing area
The mob of Meerkats can be seen in a new viewing area
Meekat Manor was built and designed by the Wicksteed team
The parrots, including Palfrey, have missed human interaction
Tracey Clarke with volunteers working on the vegetable patch
The pavilion has been undergoing restoration paid for by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund
The rollercoaster track has been sanded down to make the ride ready