The perilous state of the UK amusements industry was put into sharp focus this week when the oldest theme park went into administration. Wicksteed Park may not yet be gone, but it certainly isn’t being forgotten, at least by long-loving fans.
Wicksteed Park in Kettering, Northamptonshire, which claims to be the oldest theme park on the UK mainland, has entered administration due to the financial strain of the lockdown.
The park was opened in 1921 and is due to celebrate its centenary next year. In its February 2019 report, Wicksteed Park reported that after two loss-making years it had completed significant investment into the park’s infrastructure and that it would implement a turnaround plan by the first quarter of 2020. While that was made impossible, the park may yet reach 100, with Wicksteed backing a new, smaller company, which has been set up in an attempt to raise sufficient money to keep the park operational until next spring.
For now however, the park has told staff, 115 of whom have been laid off, that “the leisure park and events business of the company has been critically impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak and has been unable to trade over its peak summer period.” Oliver Wicksteed, chairman of the Wicksteed Charitable Trust, said that the business couldn’t have survived in the current climate, adding that the costs of social distancing and reduced capacity would have made re-opening the park in July financially unviable.
There is, however, some hope that Wicksteed will reach 100. £100,000 has already been raised after one weekend of fundraising, with local residents banding together to save one of the community’s most treasured assets and a very public campaign by comedian James Acaster.