By Sharon Redrobe OBE, CEO – Twycross Zoo
Twycross Zoo East Midland Zoological Society is a science and education charity operating a zoo across a 100-acre site in Leicestershire. We are the only zoo in the UK with all four great apes and are the largest specialist primate conservation centre in the world.
We would normally be capable of welcoming up to 10,000 visitors in a day but are restricted to 4,000 visitors per day as part of Covid measures. We are currently in our third lockdown, and so our gates once again are closed.
Whilst we have furloughed some of our staff we still need to care for our animals. The costs of feeding 500 animals – and providing the highest level of care – is considerable. We need to secure £600,000 per month just to keep the zoo running which is a real challenge as visitor numbers and therefore income have ceased.
2019 for Twycross Zoo was our best year in 57 years of our existence. In 2020 due to two lockdown closures and restrictions on visitor numbers we lost 60% of our income despite being open over the summer using all of our cash reserves. We have taken on significant debt to finance the zoo for working capital and capex to ensure the repair and maintenance of the animal and visitor areas are safe and can continue. We now have huge debts that equal our turnover for the next 20 years: We can survive but have been eviscerated.
Repayments on our CBIL loan will start in July 2021 and the deferred other loan repayments restart too requiring almost £1m a year which is almost our entire annual surplus in normal times and so we have sought urgent refinancing to mitigate these costs.
We have had to restructure to review our operational overheads making many redundant to conserve funds however costs remain high due to the number of endangered and dangerous animals that require specialist care 365 days per year. – the Job Retention Scheme is in use, but we cannot furlough our animals and so staff costs remain high whether we are open or shut.
We are not eligible for Government funding from the Government zoos animal fund. Charity regulations in place require us to keep 2-3 months running costs at any one time. To apply for the government zoo animal fund, we would need to demonstrate that we only have 12 weeks cash left. The state aid cap is also applied meaning that only a maximum of £700k would be given (less than 1 month running costs). We have submitted an application prior to the deadline to be in the system in the event that the eligibility criteria are changed.
Moreover, the fund will only pay for a very reduced part of our zoo’s costs (namely keepers, vets, feed and some essential maintenance) and not the charity essential work of education, conservation and research. This is in effect a fund for very small non-charity zoos and in effect a temporary fund to finance closure of a zoo, not to provide the support to continue to operate successfully during and post Covid that we see in other sectors e.g., Culture Recovery Fund. Less than £5 million of the £100 million Zoo fund has been spent, this fund is severely underspent, and the fund is due to close at the end of March.
We gained ‘we’re good to go’ accreditation from visit England before reopening and in 2020 Twycross Zoo welcomed 415,232 guests through the doors across 8 months. During that time, visitor numbers were restricted to a maximum of 40% of the Zoo’s standard capacity and a mass of Covid secure safety measures were put in place resulting in zero public Covid-19 cases.
The Easter period normally signifies the start of our peak visitor period where we generate revenue to build up our reserves for the forthcoming year. We were in a national lockdown and thus closed for Easter 2020 with no income. We are however scheduled to reopen from our third lockdown period on 12th April 2021 which will enable us to capture one week of this year’s easter period.
Ticket sales for reopening have been buoyant with our visitors demonstrating that they are looking forward to being able to have a day out and to once again enjoy our open-air attraction. Ongoing restrictions will be in place however for the foreseeable future limiting visitor numbers and thus severely affecting our ability to recoup lost revenue from 2020 and inhibiting our ability to build back our reserves to repay our bank loans and funding.
It has been a challenging Covid year for everyone however the light is showing now at the end of the tunnel with the vaccination programme being well under way. We do not know if 2021 will bring more disruption and lockdowns to affect our financial position further.
All we can do is proactively react as the Covid environment evolves to safeguard Twycross Zoo, our animals and staff for the future.