News | Published March 26 2020

Universal Rides owner: it wasn't a difficult decision to keep our park closed

Norman Wallis is the owner of Universal Rides. He spent 12 years regenerating a derelict amusement park in Southport into a family attraction that draws more than 500,000 visitors during its short 12-week season. Speaking to The Parliamentary Review this week, he outlines why he moved early to respond to Covid-19 and what impact he thinks the virus will have on the UK:

'I believe our park was the first in the UK to take the decision not to open in the current circumstances. Corporate press statements often describes moves such as this as a difficult decision. It wasn't. It was the only decision any business could make in all conscience in times such as these. Of course the Government then stepped in with a mandate for high-footfall public entertainment venues to close – and it was the right move.

'If we in the industry really do put our staff and customers first – and in this case the health of the nation too – then there was just one choice. Is it difficult to live with the choice? No, the choice was the right one. What is difficult – and thankfully that has been recognised by the Government – is how we protect other areas of people's lives. 

'How affected staff will pay bills, how a seasonal attraction that was last open six months ago and spent the interim on refurbishing, refreshing and maintaining existing rides and investing in new ones, can weather even more commercial down-time. 

'Our industry's hope is that the Government comes through for us. I think with that level of support then the UK can forge ahead into making up for lost time. Attractions like mine, Southport Pleasureland, will step up to the plate when the time is right – and do everything possible to deliver the best day out.

'Managing Covid 19 presents a challenge that shows the metal of a Government. What it's important to protect and save is so much bigger than the economy. It's families, it's the hope of an ordinary life, of kids being kids and grandparents being grandparents; it's confidence in your home secured and your family well fed and cared for – and everyone being around as we get through this. 

'And of course it's about making sure that those who are ill, and those who care for them are given the best chances and the best equipment and facilities – as well as a nation's thanks for their skill, bravery and tenacity.

'It has been an eye-opener looking at how various European countries have responded and comparing those with Asian companies and the US. Our hearts go out to our Italian friends, and we should all take some comfort from early reports of China's success in stopping the virus' spread – and take personal note of the measures they took. The Chinese people did as their Government instructed – and it appears to have worked.

'I'm sure some things – in every country affected – could have been done differently, better, faster. I'm also sure that this is an unprecedented situation and, in the early stages of the outbreak, there was no 'one answer'.

'What we have to do now is note what's worked best and all businesses and members of the public have to work hard as individuals to deliver the national strategy. If we don't do that, then we only have ourselves to blame.

'Some have argued that there is ambiguity around Government guidelines. I would say, yes, some is open to interpretation, but I believe we are all aware now of how this virus is spread and what we, as individuals, need to do to stem its advance and protect ourselves, loved ones and neighbours.

'Ours is a business dedicated to providing families with fun, education, relaxation and excitement. What is so frustrating is that we, and others in our industry, can't provide that now, when it's never been needed more. Leisure and tourism businesses like ours will need to be there to support a general public that has been on lockdown and facing the most challenging changes to their lives, their freedom and their mental health. 

'Wartime experience shows us that, as soon as possible after peace was declared there was a rush for the public to reconnect with relaxing, socialising, living a normal life and breathing freely again. I'm certain history will repeat itself and, as an Industry, we need to be ready and waiting for that day.

'I look forward to giving Southport Pleasureland staff a refreshed 'season opening' talk when all this is over. We're excited at the prospect of starting afresh - and looking forward to thanking each and every one of them for their contribution; I know they'll be keen to see families back in the park, out in the fresh air and simply having fun.'

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Authored by

Norman Wallis
Owner, Universal Rides
March 26 2020

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