Blackbrook Zoological Park 'will survive cash crisis'
A POPULAR visitor attraction has reassured its supporters that the future of the site is not in jeopardy.
Blackbrook Zoological Park admitted some of its staff who should have been paid on September 30 were still waiting for their money.
But zoo general manager Debbie Hughes blamed the delay on a hold-up with Gift Aid cash the charity is due to receive ‘imminently’.
And she added that a move to winter opening hours for the first time in the zoo’s history was a ‘business decision’ designed to save money.
She said: “It is true some staff have not been paid since September 30.
“We are waiting for a Gift Aid claim to come through. That claim is substantial and is what we rely on to see us through the winter.
“We are also waiting for some fundraising cash to come through and some other finances.
“We have been promised by HM Revenue and Customs that the Gift Aid is coming imminently. That is what the wages will be paid out of.”
Gift Aid increases the value of donations to charities by allowing them to reclaim basic rate tax on cash gifts.
Debbie, of Stoke, rejected claims staff were owed as much as £500 each and said not all of the 10 staff employed at the zoo were affected.
She added that many of those waiting for cash understood the zoo’s predicament.
Blackbrook Zoo, in Winkhill, near Leek, announced this week that it will only open Friday to Sunday during the winter months.
In the past it has been open every day except for Christmas Day.
Debbie, who started working at the attraction three years ago, said it was simply not viable to keep the zoo open to the public every day of the week, although animal care students from Newcastle College will continue to visit Monday to Thursday.
Anyone booking zookeeper experience days will also be able to visit at these times.
Debbie added: “Reducing opening hours at the zoo during the winter was a sound business decision.
“Over the last few years we have worked extremely hard to attract visitors for the likes of special Halloween events and spent a fortune on the likes of Christmas lights and decorations, only to be beaten by the weather.
“It costs £35,000 a month to keep the zoo open. The handful of people who might come through the days from Monday to Thursday are not going to cover this cost.
“Although we will be here and working we will be saving some money by cutting down on about four members of staff each day we are closed and also saving in energy costs by not opening the gift shop and tea room.”
Blackbrook Zoo announced a massive fund-raising campaign last year to encourage more businesses and individuals to support the attraction, run by a charitable trust.
Next week, the zoo will launch its latest fund-raising campaign where staff will visits schools with some of the animals and give a talk for free.
In return, pupils will be asked to gather sponsorship to complete an obstacle course in aid of the zoo, with about 10 per cent of the proceeds going back to the school.
The first school to take part is The Faber Catholic Primary School in Cotton.
Headteacher Alexandra Beardmore said: “The zoo is local to us and quite a lot of children visit there.
“We heard about the Ostrich Obstacle Race and thought we would give it a go.
“A lot of our parents here do benefit from the tourism that places like Blackbrook Zoo brings in, as they run holiday homes and pubs. It’s important to support these things.”
Schools wanting to take part in the obstacle course challenge should email firstname.lastname@example.org.