Alnwick Garden boss welcomes green shoots of recovery at Northumberland visitor attraction
The Alnwick Garden, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northumberland, is making preparations for the further easing of Covid restrictions.
It has also been an opportunity for Mark Brassell, director of The Alnwick Garden, to reflect on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic over last 18 months and look forward to the ‘new normal’.
The Alnwick Garden is a charitable trust, ploughing all profits from tourism back into the upkeep of The Garden and its charitable programmes which provide support and education from the Roots and Shoots Programmes (educating school age children) right through to the Elderberries.
“When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the site was shut down immediately and a growing sense of uncertainty was felt throughout the UK,” recalled Mark.
“The gates were closed, staff were sent to work from home and our charitable beneficiaries were unable to visit – particularly The Elderberries (our older, more vulnerable members of the community).
"As a charitable trust, we immediately went into survival mode. We wanted to protect jobs and ensure that all of our beneficiaries were included in our plans.
"The Elderberries are our largest group – the over 55s in our community who experience isolation at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic, isolation and lockdown.”
The Alnwick Garden employs 130 members of staff, making the one of the largest employers in the region.
Despite the site shutting down, Mark’s commitment to job retention remained.
“When the furlough scheme was announced, our commitment to job security was paramount so it came at a particularly opportune time,” he explained.
"As a result of the financial assistance from the Government, we were able to keep all of our staff on the payroll and ensure that when we reopened they all still had employment.
"Not only did this reassure them financially during this difficult period, but also mentally - it went some way to alleviate any anxiety that they had about what was to come once restrictions began to lift.
“Another positive that came out of this process was that we were able to work with a number of local businesses in accessing the Kickstart scheme where we have employed people in our food and beverage department and in turn created additional jobs for the town.”
Since reopening the gates, The Alnwick Garden has seen a huge uptake in visitors who are finally allowed to enjoy the outside space and – albeit with limited numbers and socially distanced provisions – have once again began to support the beneficiaries who have been unable to enjoy these programmes.
This uptake in visitor numbers has also meant that various roles have been created across the site, meaning that employment opportunities are now available across a variety of departments.
Mark said: “Whilst we are very much in a recovery year, 2021 is starting to feel normal – well, a ‘new normal’. It is so good to see people enjoying the open spaces, our beneficiaries returning and people working across the site again.”
The Alnwick Garden has sanitising stations throughout the site, one way systems and a pre-booking ticket system to ensure that numbers are kept within guidelines. It is also launching a ‘Kids go Free’ campaign from July 17.