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Sheer delight as doors open at attractions

By Charlotte Bentley | Shrewsbury | Attractions | Published:

Shropshire's shopping centres, zoos, attractions, and charity shops are today opening their doors to customers after months of closure and financial hardship.

Chief executive Colin Sweeney at Weston Park

It is the latest phase of the easing of lockdown restrictions which the Government brought into force on March 23 to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The news has been welcomed by businesses, charities and attractions alike which were forced to close and have spoken out about financial struggles since lockdown began.

Zoos and animal parks across the UK, including Telford's Hoo Farm and nearby Chester Zoo, had set up fundraisers to support them as many faced closure without urgent funding.

Charities detailed losses running to hundreds of thousands of pounds while the main source of their income has been cut off.

And jobs have been put on the line as retailers such as Monsoon and Victoria's Secret have gone into administration since lockdown began.

Now after weeks of planning the shops and attractions will reopen with measures to keep workers and visitors safe such as social distancing queue lines, one-way systems and hand sanitising stations.

But pubs, bars, restaurants and hairdressers will still not be able to reopen until July 4 "at the earliest", according to Business Secretary Alok Sharma.

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The Government said these businesses remain closed because the risk of transmission in these environments is higher due to there generally being long periods of person-to-person contact.

Joel Campbell, who runs Shrewsbury Dana Prison, said he was thrilled with the decision to reopen attractions and they look forward to welcoming guests at the 18th-century jail on June 20, having made changes to ensure it can be ran safely.

"In essence, we are going to run it more like an actual prison," he said. "It was built for social distancing, from people, from society and from each other, as it was a traditional Victorian prison and that was its purpose."

The ticket office has been moved outside, and a one-way route has been set up throughout the prison. The site was already "fortunate" with having two sets of stairs, Joel said, one to go up, and one to go down.

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"We have got 28 hand washing stations across the site. We were so pleased that attractions could re-open. It has been an incredibly difficult time for all businesses.

"Having an attraction that thrives on people come through its doors and socialising, is hard when its not open. It left empty is a terrible shame. So it is great to be able to get back open and get to it."

Joel recommends booking in advance for the self-guided tours which will start from June 20. Group tours will start again from mid July.

The Dana Prison is due to reopen soon after closure due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. In Picture: Joel Campbell

Meanwhile shoppers are able to browse clothes in stores for the first time in months today, but they will have to “exercise restraint” by not trying on clothing and testing goods, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has previously said.

The Government has said that fitting rooms should be closed when possible due to the challenges in operating them safely, and cleaned frequently when they need to be open.

The Severn Hospice had to close its 28 charity shops in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, and has been losing £100,000 a week since – a large proportion of the hospice's income normally comes from the sale of clothes, books, toys, furniture and more.

Now that social restrictions including enforced shop closures are being relaxed, the charity announced that its shop in Whitchurch will reopen today.

Customer numbers are restricted and markers will be displayed to remind people to keep a safe distance apart. Ross Henderson, the charity’s head of retail, said: "We have been waiting a long time to reopen our shops and to finally be able to open the one in Whitchurch is a big leap forward."

Weston Park, the stately home on the Shropshire Staffordshire border, has also started welcoming visitors back to the estate as they opened for members from Friday and the general public tomorrow.

A spokesperson said: "We opened on Friday, June 12, welcoming visitors holding annual memberships for the first four days only.

"Our members have been so supportive and patient during this crisis and it is our way of saying thank you to welcome them back first.

"It is wonderful to be able to start opening up the estate gradually and see visitors for the first time in 3 months. If the restrictions keep easing along the lines set out by the government we hope to open the Granary Brasserie from July 4 and to look to welcome couples looking for a wedding venue for show rounds.

LAST COPYRIGHT EXPRESS&STAR TIM THURSFIELD-12/06/20.People enjoying the reopening of Weston Park, after lockdown..

"The team are really looking forward to the start of our full opening tomorrow."

Hoo Farm, a family run countryside attraction in the outskirts of Telford, has opened its doors today after weeks of uncertainty.

Will Dorrell, partner of Hoo Farm said he was "delighted" with the Government's decision to reopen zoos. A fundraiser started by the owners has now reached its target of £10,000 – the amount of money needed to feed the zoo's animals for two months.

Likewise, bosses at West Midlands Safari Park in Bewdley have welcomed the news, but said walk-through exhibits and park rides will remain closed until they have further clarification from the Government.

A spokesperson said: "We are delighted our Park is able to re-open today. We are very much looking forward to welcoming our guests back and provide them with a safe and enjoyable visit.

"We have implemented a number of new measures following advice from Government and industry associations. Aside from limiting the amount of visitors each day, and allocated arrival time slots, protective screening has been installed at contact points, while floor markings and signs to manage walkways and queues have been introduced.

"We’ve had unprecedented demand for tickets and we are over the moon that people want to spend their first family trip out to us."

The full list of businesses that can open from today includes food retailers, fashion shops, charity shops, betting shops and arcades, tailors, dress fitters and fashion designers, car dealerships, auction houses and antique stores. Retail art galleries will be able to open, along with photography studios, gift shops and retail spaces in theatres, museums, libraries, heritage sites and tourism sites.

Alison Bridgwater with Kovu the Meerkat at Hoo Farm

Mobile phone stores, indoor and outdoor markets and craft fairs are also on the list. The guidance also applies to those currently open, including banks, post offices and other money businesses, it added.

Car showrooms and outdoor markets were able to reopen on June 1 and garden centres and estate agents were both given the go-ahead to reopen on May 13.

Attingham Park sees £1 million loss as National Trust properties open their doors

Staff at Shropshire's National Trust properties have been working hard to get the charity back on track, as Attingham Park reports a staggering loss of £1 million.

Mark Agnew, general manager at Attingham Park, said he and his team have been so grateful for the public's support when they reopened at the start of June under the trust's online pre-booking system and they have loved welcoming people back to the site.

The Nation Trust as a whole has lost £200 million, Mark said, with Attingham losing its maintenance and repairs budgets due to income loss while it was closed.

"It was nerve wracking opening up again after being shut down for so long," he said. "We didn't know what to expect but we have been overwhelmed by the public response. It's quite a different visit, we were a bit nervous about that, but people have been lovely."

All walks on the site are open, using a one-way system, but the mansion is still closed until further notice.

Mark added: "This week we have had more than 1,000 visitors everyday. We are increasing ticket sales quite dramatically each week and hoping to extend our opening hours later this month.

People brave the rain as Attingham Park, reopens after lockdown

"This week we have opened our cafe for take out teas and coffees – we would love to do more but our number one objection is safety. On Monday we can open the shop.

"I want to say a big thank you from me and my team to members who have stuck by us and kept us going. We need them now more than ever."

Likewise, Dudmaston Hall near Bridgnorth opened its gardens and parkland last week and Alexandra Blakeman, the events and marketing officer, said it had been wonderful to welcome visitors back.

"It was amazing to welcome people back and share the property again," she said. "It's a privilege to be able to provide a space for families to safely meet. We are here to encourage people to get outdoors and get some fresh air.

"The mansion, art gallery and tea room are closed currently but we are working very hard to make sure visitors are aware that some areas are closed.

"As of Monday, the tea room will be operating a take away outlet for teas and coffees. People have been really positive about it all. They are generally very understanding of the situation and very supportive."

The sites are operating on a pre-booked ticket system which go live every Friday. People who have not booked will be turned away, even those with memberships.

Severn Valley Railway to reopen in August

The Severn Valley Railway is gearing up to reopen to the public during August, after months of closure due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The popular attraction, whose leading heritage line runs from from Kidderminster in Worcestershire to Bridgnorth in Shropshire, closed its doors in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic escalated and lockdown began across the UK.

Over the next few weeks, the railway will gradually bring back its 1,800 volunteers, along with paid staff - 95 per cent of whom are currently on furlough.

The SR 34027 Taw Valley is being exclusively used as an Adopt-an Engine option on the SVR shop. Photo: Colin Binch

It faces a huge challenge to prepare for reopening as general manager Helen Smith explained: "Effectively we had to mothball the railway three months ago, and our heritage rolling stock has been standing around getting rusty and dusty since then. We’ve got to get our locomotives and carriages back into top condition by overhauling and checking everything.

"Our stations and garden areas need some TLC too, and we’ll be checking every single inch of the track and lineside to make sure we’re ready to roll when the time comes."

Helen said there is still a great deal of uncertainty around how passenger services will be managed once the railway has reopened.

She added: "We’re working closely with the Heritage Railway Association to make sure we get it right when it comes to safety for both visitors and our volunteers and staff. We have to wait and see whether the Government will reduce its social distancing advice to one metre from the current two metres. Such a change would make it easier to run services and allow us to make a profit rather than a loss.

"Although it’s going to be compulsory to wear face coverings on public transport, we don’t believe this will apply to us as a heritage attraction, provided we can maintain the recommended social distancing guidelines."

It is likely that services will run on a reduced timetable when the railway reopens, and it will be encouraging visitors to pre-book their tickets. Although booking for specific dates is not yet available, there will be updates on social media and at svr.co.uk.

Before the line itself is back in action, the SVR will reopen its pubs next month. The King and Castle at Kidderminster station, and the Railwayman’s Arms at Bridgnorth will be serving customers once again from July 4.

The SVR could lose up to £6 million income this year, as a result of months of closure and lower passenger numbers because of social distancing requirements. An emergency appeal has received more than £745,000. The SVR has also applied for a bank loan under the CBILS scheme, and to the National Lottery for emergency grant aid.

To support the SVR’s Fight Back Fund, visit www.svrtrust.org.uk.

Charlotte Bentley

By Charlotte Bentley
Community Reporter - @CharlotteB_Star

Community Reporter at the Shropshire Star, helping under-represented communities to find a voice in Shropshire and Mid Wales. Contact me at charlotte.bentley@shropshirestar.co.uk.

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