Life behind the closed drawbridge has been a sombre one, but we have never lost hope. Since we first opened our gates in 2011, Brockholes has been buzzing with activity both wild and human. But in March the humming sounds of our dedicated volunteers working hard on the reserve fell silent, and the gleeful giggles of children as they spot Brown Hares bounding through the grass and nosey dragonflies coming to say hello, were no more.
We found out we would need to pull up our drawbridge and close our gates at the same time you did, with the Government announcements. This has been one of the real challenges throughout; when an announcement is made it will then take a few days for guidelines to be released and then more time to review these and apply them to our way of working – this is not unique to Brockholes of course; all industries are in the same boat.
I recall, vividly, writing the social media posts to let you all know we were closing; holding back the tears was impossible. The Trust has worked so hard to keep Brockholes going, and the raw passion in doing so from our staff and volunteers is both astounding and humbling. You may have heard us say ‘we do not receive Government funding’, what this means is that it is our job, the charity, to find the money needed to run Brockholes each day. This is done through fundraising, and also through income generated by things like the car park charges, the restaurant and shop. In reality we have been battling for some time to generate the funding levels needed, often hit by poor weather and low visitor numbers. In short, our resilience was not at a level to cope with the chaos unleashed by the pandemic.
Without the Government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, I fear that it could well have been years before we were able to financially afford to lower the drawbridge at Brockholes once more. What this does mean is we need to be extremely careful as we begin to reopen – we are walking a very thin line.
We have been left with no option but to keep the majority of our staff on furlough, so when we say we are working hard to get ready for you – we really mean it! Remaining staff from across the charity have been drafted in for the first phase, leaving many of them covering several roles at once. Each and every area needs a full risk assessment and many actions taken as a result of this. In order to reopen the car park and play area we have made hundreds of posters, re-trained staff and made the necessary changes in our offices to keep everyone safe.
On the reserve, a team once bolstered by an army of dedicated volunteers have found themselves short-handed and fighting to deal with anti-social behaviour and vandalism in addition to their vital conservation work. Not once have I seen them lose hope, they have simply continued with grit and determination to look after our beautiful reserve.
Our volunteers are not yet able to return safely, and when they do things are likely to look very different. The social aspect of volunteering is what keeps many coming back (along with the incredible passion they have for nature and for Brockholes). If you are a volunteer reading this, thank you so much for your patience – we know you are itching to get going again!
We have also spent the last few months contacting all of our happy couples-to-be and moving their wedding dates. All of them have been so wonderful and understanding in what has been a heart-breaking time for them. We know when their big day finally arrives, our team will make it a memorable one for them.
As we prepare the Visitor Village our very small team have a mammoth task once more, but again they are determined not to be defeated. We know so many of you want our toilets open, but in order to open the Visitor Village we need to ensure we can generate the income to pay for the staff needed and that means we will need to reopen Kestrel Kitchen at the same time – again we find ourselves in a vicious circle. We expect works needed to take around another week, but we will of course keep you all up to date with our plans.
There is a long road ahead to get Brockholes back on its (floating) feet and we are going to need your help and support to do it. Every time you visit, treat yourself to a snack, book your wedding or event…every time you spend money at Brockholes, you are helping us at the Lancashire Wildlife Trust to fund the vital conservation work and secure a future for the Brockholes we all know and love. If you are able to, please consider becoming a member of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust or make a donation; Your local wildlife needs you now more than ever!
Thank you all for sticking by us – we can’t wait to welcome you back soon.