Tag: Cheshire

Behind the scenes as Chester Zoo prepares to re-open to visitors

Preparations for post-Covid visits to Chester Zoo.

The moment the gates swing open on Monday morning is one staff feared they would never see.

“We were three weeks away from closing down,” says Jamie Christon, Chief Operating Officer, pulling up the collar of his Chester Zoo fleece against a sudden downpour.

“I went through the four stages of grief in 48 hours. Then,” he smiles, “we decided to fight.”

Chester Zoo found itself threatened with extinction on June 1 when the government ordered it to remain closed indefinitely — despite having put measures in place to make visits Covid secure.

The subsequent fundraising campaign secured over £3m in a week to ensure the zoo, founded in 1931 and home to 135,000 animals, could be saved.

The public support contributed to the announcement by Boris Johnson this week that English zoos could re-open within a partial easing of lockdown measures.

“We had been haemorrhaging money since closing on March 21,” says Jamie. “It costs £0.5m per month to feed the animals alone.”

Fresh start

Mandatory online tickets (including those for members) are now on sale, although visitor numbers will be limited to 3,000 per day — compared to an average of 10,000.

But, while all three wildlife areas, plus the nature reserve, will be open, visitors will notice changes to comply with social distancing.

So, what to expect? I’ve come to Chester Zoo for a preview.

Beyond the gates, I find a series of 2m markers leading to self-scanning ticket booths and the first of 30 hand-sanitisation units on site.

A pressure-value system will operate at the entrance to manage numbers, Jamie explains, so ticket holders are advised to avoid the 10am opening queue.

Walking around the 128-acre site, we inspect some of the pinch-point measures installed at the more popular attractions, such as the elephant and giraffe enclosures.

New protective screens, regularly deep cleaned, stand between visitors and animals and stand-off markings on the floor indicate the line to stand behind.

Footsteps illustrate the viewing points behind the line to maintain social distance between visitors.

The new rules will take some getting used for both the visitors and animals. When we approach the Humboldt Penguins, splashing playfully in their giant tank, a couple swim over curiously.

“Some species, such as the penguins and giraffes, are very social animals,” explains Jamie.

“The eerie quiet of the zoo during lockdown has been disconcerting for us all.”

Day trip

If you’re making a day of it, then 12 kiosks are opening for take-away snacks and all the toilets will be open, albeit with queueing outside likely until a traffic lights system is installed.

The picnic benches have been strategically placed at 2m intervals.

All inside habitats and the gift shop will, however, remain closed for now. Some sections of the play areas for children are still roped off and the ATM is closed.

We finish our tour outside The Oakfield pub, the restored former family home of zoo founder George Mottershead.

It’s also closed, although the beer garden may open in coming weeks as Government regulations evolve.

It may be a while, however, before visitors are allowed back into the cosy library room to admire the archive of Mottershead family photographs over a pint of Deuchars IPA.

Despite the clear markings, the main challenge, I find, will be enforcing social distancing.

This task falls to some 100 furloughed staff who have returned to work, many retraining as welcome staff with a “friendly but firm” brief to ensure visits remain safe.

Looking ahead, there are plans to extend the opening hours to include two weekday evenings until 8pm, plus cheaper afternoon-only tickets as visitor numbers are slowly increased.

The zoo will also run more of the virtual-tour days that proved so popular online during lockdown.

Picnic time

Jamie will be there to open the gates on Monday morning and is hoping for blue skies, the re-opening ensuring the zoo’s conservation work in 40 countries worldwide can now continue.

“My advice is to bring a picnic and make use of the new outdoor spaces. We’re delighted to welcome people back,” says Jamie, who is planning a much-needed UK staycation for the autumn.

“After all, people power saved our zoo.”

Read more at Telegraph Travel.

An exclusive preview of Chester’s new heritage attraction

Today was the opening day at Chester: A Life Story [pictured above], the new heritage attraction in Chester.

I was there early this morning for an exclusive preview of the exhibition, researching an article for The Guardian in the family travel section.

Here’s the recent news item I wrote for the Cheshire Ultimate Guide by way of a preview of the story to come.

A new family visitor attraction has opened in Chester to celebrate the city’s rich social history in time for this year’s Chester Heritage Festival.

Chester: A Life Story puts the emphasis on the often-overlooked stories of ordinary people, using multi-sensory interpretation to highlight the folk who have shaped Cheshire over the past 2,000 years.

Including sections on crime and punishment, and health and medicine, it traces human stories from Roman Chester to the present day via the Middle Ages, aiming to put the story of Chester into a global context.

The heritage attraction is based at St Michael’s Church on Bridge Street, Chester, and managed by Big Heritage, the company that also runs Western Approaches, the wartime secret bunker in Liverpool.

The Chester Heritage Festival runs June 21-29 this year with events around the city.

Chester: A Life Story

Read the full Guardian Travel story here.

How To Spend A Family Day Out At Tatton Park Cheshire

Stuck for a family day out this summer holiday?

Here’s a suggestion based on my latest article for The Guardian and centred around my home patch of Cheshire — well, East Cheshire but it’s near enough.

It centred on a new attraction for the summer holidays at Tatton Park. The Farm [pictured above] is designed to introduce kids to the idea of provenance.

Here’s a preview:

The dramatic highlight is a visit to The Slaughterhouse where the opening salvo is a projected image of a pig hanging upside down from a winch.

It’s a Horrible Histories-style audio explanation of slaughter process, explaining how parts of the animals are used for different products and the importance of good animal husbandry.

Morrissey fans look away now.

Read the whole article: The Farm at Tatton Park, Cheshire, review

Guest blog posts for Chester Growth Partnership

Chester has some real characters — try Calum [pictured above at cigar shop Turmeaus].

I’ve been helping to uncover some of them recently with a series of guest blog posts for the Chester Growth Partnership.

It’s a copywriting job with plenty of journalistic research and a touch of personal blog-post-style experience.

Over autumn I’ve interviewed some key figures from the Chester foodie scene, experts in property and uncovered offbeat ideas for Christmas shopping on a tour of the Rows.

It’s been great, in particular, to celebrate the independent shops and small business that make the city special.

The content is hosted on the blog but also shared through the Marketing Cheshire social channels — look out for my stories on Facebook and LinkedIn.

The full set of guests posts is as follows. Look out for more in the new year.

Eat, drink and be merry: Chester’s foodie revolution

Could the future of Chester be more Blade Runner than black and white

Medieval cellars, an adult creche and German sausages — that’s how to celebrate Christmas in Chester