Northumberland National Park making almost £1m a year
Commercial opportunities at Northumberland National Park are bringing almost £1 million a year into the North East attraction, with bosses hoping to increase this further.
The regional attraction has been trying to become more business savvy in recent years, to stave off the impact of rising costs and real term funding cuts.
And while the coronavirus pandemic has hit finances, the subsequent bounce back in visitor numbers has seen it exceed its predicted performance so far this year.
“In 2011, after the financial crash and when public funds were being cut back, this organisation was generating about £350,000 in earned income every year,” said Tony Gates, chief executive of the national park since 2005.
“We set a target to increase that to about £950,000 and we’ve done that successfully in that time.
“We’re a public body and to the public we’re funded by the government, but we’re also a regulatory body and for some looking in from the outside, how we fit commercial income generation into that may look odd.
“There’s a risk some may think we’re focused on that ahead of other things, but that’s not the case and I think we’re very well balanced.”
Gates added he hoped future work nationally on carbon offsetting projects involving woodlands and peatlands would also offer extra opportunities for cash.
Increasing tourism to the region also presents an attractive source of funds, buoyed by claims the summer saw the national park at its busiest since the 1970s.
The appears to have been born out in some of the figures available to bosses, with visitors to the flagship Sill centre, near Sycamore Gap, recently reaching levels comparable to those seen in 2019, before the start of the Covid pandemic.
While the start of the financial year in April saw business hampered by continuing restrictions, the recovery since then has been sharp, with retail income in August 52% higher than expected.
Rosie Thomas, the park’s director of business development, said: “It was a slower start [to the year] than we wanted because of restrictions and we suffered with the “pingdemic” from staffing and we couldn’t open in the way we wanted to.
“But we are starting to make that up and if we don’t we’re covered by the Covid grant.”