Camping and leisure park reveals the ‘secret’ to Covid recovery
- Credit: The Secret Garden Touring Park
From Covid-19 adversity to business collaboration, here’s how a Fenland touring park got through lockdown and continued their five-year plan.
The Secret Garden Touring Park on the outskirts of Wisbech was just about to complete upgrades to their site when the coronavirus lockdown was introduced.
The north Cambridgeshire park was forced to totally transform their business model in a bid to adapt and attract a new audience to survive the pandemic.
Owners Neil and Lesley Pollington said they were about to finish “the last piece of the jigsaw” before being “thrown into a very dark place”.
Mr Pollington said: “Like many parks having just come through our closed winter season, the impact of a spring to early summer shutdown between March and July was devastating.
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“We reopened in early July and at the time, as things stood, we would not generate enough income to get us through the winter season into March 2021.
“For the first time in my life, I was indeed thrown in to a very dark place and my head was all over the place and I can tell you it was not a good place to be!”
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Despite the pandemic and facing financial woes, at present day the park has recently opened their ‘Secret Beer Garden’ in a safe outdoor setting.
Speaking of how that came about, Mr Pollington added: “It was following a conversation with my daughter around mid-July that I was prompted to use our temporary events area as beer garden and create a bar hatch in the unfinished shop visitor centre.
“At a similar time, I became aware of the plight that many of our great local street food traders were facing.
“With many people working from home, there is a very reduced occupancy in Cambridge city offices who would be their normal daytime customers.
“I discussed the possibility of a trial with Robin Platt of Kura Kura – Sri Lankan street food and a trial was organised for a Friday evening.
“In short, it was a massive success and worked very well combined with the beer garden venue.”
Over the following weeks, the concept rolled out to a wider range of other street food vendors with the couple introducing new traders to the park.
From pizza to fish and chips, from South African food to paella, punjab Indian food, Jamaican food, Asian steamed bun’s; a lot was on offer at the Fen venue.
Mr Platt of Kura Kura said: “This is the perfect venue in these times.
“There is a huge amount of covered outdoor space that enables a well ventilated safe and socially distanced environment, but also achieving a superb relaxed friendly and welcoming atmosphere.
“Working together on this project has been huge fun and brought a great opportunity for trade at what has become one of our favourite venues.”
It is not just tasty food on offer at The Secret Garden, local bands and entertainers have also taken to the stage to entertain guests safely and securely.
Ian Larkin, entertainer, said: “It has been a joy and a pleasure to work with The Secret Garden with regard to the provision of live entertainment at a time when the entertainment business in general is on its knees.
“In the 39 years that I have been in the business this is a time like no other and it seemed like there was no alternative but to sit on our hands and wait it out.
“However, The Secret Garden has given the opportunity to perform live again and give the general public a safe and most of all enjoyable evening out.”
The spacious, covered and now heated beer garden, is described as the “ideal venue for such an event” and is set out and “managed perfectly” for the current environment.
There are rules in place, such as no dancing or over exertive audience participation and volume must be kept to a reasonable level.
Mr Pollington added: “We are in the process of planning events for the months ahead with live acts of all genres.
“With the absence of panto being available locally this year, we are in the middle of working on a full-scale Christmas musical for the whole family.
“The response by the public to live events at The Secret Beer Garden has been overwhelming and heart-warming.
“It feels great that local companies can work together to find a common way forward in these times and this has certainly given The Secret Garden a lifeline to go forward with.
“Many thanks to all involved who have made this work.
“As well as working with local businesses we are also pleased to have community group shedders and fixers on site.
“They are a group based on the idea of ‘Men’s Shed’ but open to anyone to join.
“As a community group they have also faced difficulties during the initial lockdown but have put the required precautions in place thanks to funding from Healthy Fenland and are offering a place for people to come and meet, skill swap or just have a brew and a chat.
“They were also chosen to launch CPSL MIND “Stop Suicide” campaign which highlighted the need for such community projects.”
For more information, visit: www.thesecretgardentouringpark.co.uk/