Oliver Wicksteed: "This was not brought about by debt"

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Wicksteed Park founder's great-grandson says the park is being protected by generous donations

The great-grandson of Wicksteed Park's founder has said the operating company's administration was not brought about by debt.

Oliver Wicksteed, descendant of Charles Wicksteed and chairman of Wicksteed Charitable Trust, told this paper that Wicksteed Park Limited's administration was a consequence of the coronavirus lockdown and not because of debts.

Mr Wicksteed said: "This was not brought about by debt.

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Wicksteed Park Limited's administration was not caused by debt, says the trust's chairmanWicksteed Park Limited's administration was not caused by debt, says the trust's chairman
Wicksteed Park Limited's administration was not caused by debt, says the trust's chairman

"The original business was running out of money very quickly because the park was closed.

"The charity continued to support the company for as long as it could but law says a charity cannot prop up a failing business, so the company directors said it would be absolutely wrong for the company to go out while owing lots of money.

"It needed to make sure it paid its staff and suppliers and it did."

Kettering's Wicksteed Park is owned by a Wicksteed Charitable Trust and the park's attractions are run by a company, which was Wicksteed Park Limited.

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Oliver Wicksteed explained the situation to the Northants Telegraph and said: "If you’re a charity and you want to do any trading then you need a trading arm, so you have a wholly owned subsidiary company to make money for the charity in a variety of ways, like the National Trust. They have cafes and any profit they make goes back to the charity.

"The trust is funded by the company.

"It works - Wicksteed Park has been kept without regular funding for 99 years, but it just wasn't coronavirus proof."

Wicksteed Park has received funding for projects in the past, but not regular funding to keep it going. The charitable trust was given £1.78m from the Heritage Lottery fund for its @play project.

In 2018/19, the park made a loss of £820,000.

Mr Wicksteed said: "The previous year the business did lose money, we invested in buildings."

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However, the park has been unable to capitalise on those investments after being forced to close at the beginning of lockdown.

Mr Wicksteed said: "There are costs, there is maintenance, insurance, animal husbandry, all that. We have these costs and we have no revenue apart from the car park."

The park is still not sure when it will be able to open fully. Mr Wicksteed said it made no financial sense to open the park's attractions and incur all the costs of operating rides until visitors would come in large numbers, which is not possible at the moment.

He added: "We are still being told by the government it could be months."

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While the park cannot operate as normal, it is asking for support from the public and Mr Wicksteed said there is no fundraising target because they do not know for how long Wicksteed will rely on donations.

He said the money is helping to secure the park and make sure it is in good shape once it can open.

Mr Wicksteed said the park has been overwhelmed by the response, he said: "It's amazing and it's just fantastic to get that level of support for the charity because in years gone by the trust has never been supported by donations."

Mr Wicksteed cited the support being organised by Damian Cox from Big Bopper Entertainment, Lucy Elliott who opened a JustGiving page which has raised thousands, and support from high-profile people like Rev Richard Coles and James Acaster.

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The trust is now supporting a new trading company to save the park and Mr Wicksteed said: "It's important to see there's a lot of people trying to save the park and recognising the work the charity has done to save the park."

He said the new company will be joined by 15 existing members of staff, including the managing director and financial director, who he described as "very, very good people."

For now, the public has been the main support for the trust and Mr Wicksteed said: "It's brought about really uplifting change in the attitude towards the park.

"It's had support from funds but sometimes it can be hard to get the message across that it's a charity with a trading company."

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If you'd like to donate to Wicksteed Park, their JustGiving page is available here.

A previous version of this story said the park had received £2.4m of lottery money. We apologise for the error and have corrected the article accordingly.

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