Public support is giving us faith, says Shepreth Wildlife Park owner as visitor attraction reopens
- Credit: Archant
The director of Shepreth Wildlife Park has told the Crow of her relief that they have finally reopened after three months in lockdown – but says more support is needed to secure their future.
Rebecca Willers and the team reopened Shepreth last week for their passholders and supporters and this week saw the return of the general public – all with social distancing measures in place.
Rebecca said: “Last week was a dry run and it was really interesting that the feedback we got from people was that they saw more animals than they usually see when they come round on their own. Because it’s a guided “walk they can’t deviate from it so we never expected that in this situation they would actually see more so that’s nice. “The weather is a problem, it threw it down on one of the days and we can’t have any of the indoor areas open so people can’t go inside – they will have to dress for the weather.
It has all gone very well though as we put so much guidance out in advance on our website and social media, the public have stuck to what we’ve asked. People prebook tickets so we know exactly how many people are coming on the day and there are no keeper talks so there’s no congregating in groups.
“The only downside is that because the numbers are limited we are running at a massive loss, so after this week we will be increasing capacity and we know we can accommodate more people.
“It’s sad from the point of view of the keepers, because they love giving their talks and that is what we are known for but the talks will come back and we are planning to have people download keeper talks when they’re walking round.
“We haven’t started doing food yet, we’ll start next week as a takeaway service
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“It’s a very different feel, it would be nice to go back to how we used to be but safety first.”
Rebecca reported losses of almost £500,000, due to the closure and while lockdown restrictions were being eased – but zoos still closed – South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne called on the goverment to ensure Shepreth kept afloat.
Rebecca continued: “It’s a huge relief we couldn’t go on as we were as we wouldn’t have survived, there’s only so many times you can ask for help and doing the virtual experiences and things. There’s only a finite number of those we can sell.
“Between April and May donations dropped by 83 per cent. The wildlife park is selfsufficent normally, it doesn’t need to rely on donations in normal time and we don’t want to be like that. For us, raising money is for animals in the wild – it’s important to us to have this site in Shepreth for people to enjoy and raise awareness, but money we raise is for animals in situ.
“It’s almost like we’ve reverted back to being a place where there’s a collection of animals for people to look at – and that was fine 40 years ago it’s not fine today. Conservation is what we’re about and we need to do what our aims and objectives are.
“This is the start of a long road. People are saying ‘it’s great you’re open’ thinking that it’s all OK, but we’ve got to get through winter. It’s all very well now, as the money is coming in but if we’re in this situation on a cold day in November there won’t be many bookings – people won’t want to walk around the park.
“We want to be in a position by November where people can go indoors to kep warm, and have use the playbarn so people do come along.
“Yesterday we were talking about virtual Santa experiences - so we are thinking way ahead of what we could do if we needed to.
“When we had to close we thought we would be OK because we have insurance – but because it’s a new virus we weren’t covered. And you think ‘it’s OK we’ll get funding and then you get turned down, we got it eventually but at every step you think ‘I can’t do this anymore’ and then the next week you think ‘I’ve got to do this’ and something good happens.
This morning a lady rang up and gave us a huge donation. I said to her honestly you don’t know what this means – it gives us faith again to keep going that people are out there supporting us.
“It’s as though you are running on this path and these hurdles keep coming and keep getting that little bit taller, but you get stronger the more you jump over them the more strength you have to keep going – and it’s the public giving us that faith 100 percent.
“A few days ago we had children that had drawn signs to save the animals and gone round their village and collected £260 – they came up with that on their own. Those things make you think ‘we can do this’. “Something is going to happen and it’s going to come right, we just have to keep going.”
To find out more about going along to Shepreth Wildlife Park, in the village’s Station Road, go to https://sheprethwildlifepark.co.uk/.