After fundraising success, the well-loved heritage visitor attraction will be fully open from Saturday. But visitors should expect some changes.
Creswell Crags closed, due to COVID-19, on 17 March. Shortly after, the charitable trust which runs the site, near Worksop, had to announce that they were not sure they would ever be able to reopen due to the income that would be lost during lockdown. The site is entirely dependent on income from visitors. On 1st August, 137 days after it closed, the site will once again be open every day. This includes the car park, for walks around the scenic limestone gorge. Visitors will also be able to buy a ticket to see the site’s museum with its exhibition of prehistoric artefacts, and the café will be offering a takeaway service for food and drink. From 10th August, visitors will also be able to tour the site’s historically important caves via pre-booked private cave tours.
It is a big achievement for the team to make it this point. With all but four of the team of over 30 staff furloughed to make the most of the Government’s Job Retention Scheme, work since March has focused on fundraising and boosting the profile of the site. Emergency funding from Historic England was the first sign of hope; There followed a rent holiday from the landowners, Welbeck Estate, and further funding contributions from neighbouring business, Lhoist, and Bolsover District Council. A community fundraising campaign raised over £25,000 and saw the JustGiving page flooded with messages of support. An auction hosted by Derbyshire celebrity Charles Hanson raised over £7000, with 55 lots donated by supporters. Finally, the team secured £250,000 in emergency funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, meaning planning for reopening could begin in earnest. In July, the new flexibility in the furlough scheme meant that staff started to return to work; cutting the grass and overgrown hedges, making repairs around the site, planning new COVID-19 safety measures, and new programming. Creswell Crags is reopening due to a huge collective effort.
Recently awarded ‘We’re Good to Go’ accreditation by Visit England, for adherence to cleanliness and social distancing guidelines, the Creswell Crags team have been working extra hard to ensure visitors are safe on site. Known for its outdoor spaces, there is a lot of scope for summer picnics and walks at the site. But the building will be open again too, with safety measures in place: there will be a one way system through the Visitor Centre; visitors will see new screens in place at counters and tills, and hand sanitiser around the building. Face coverings will be recommended inside the building, and staff will be cleaning on a regular schedule.
Dr Tim Caulton, Chair of Creswell Heritage Trust said: “We are delighted to welcome visitors back to the Creswell Crags Museum, Visitor Centre and Café from Saturday 1st August. Thanks to generous emergency funding from National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England and many other friends and supporters, we have been able to make changes to our visitor centre and the services we provide to make your visit to Creswell Crags as safe as possible. We have listened to advice from many other organisations and whilst we have had to make some changes to what we know you love about the Crags, we are confident that your visit will be just as enjoyable as on previous occasions. Please observe the safety guidance, be considerate to other visitors and our staff, and we look forward to welcoming you back. Thank you for your ongoing support.”
For the Creswell Crags team, the fundraising campaign continues. Also the Trust has attracted substantial funding, they stress that visitor income is still a necessary part of securing the site’s future. Much of the Easter-September peak trading period has already been lost, and visitor numbers are likely to remain lower than average. In addition, the school visits on which the site relies for a steady income are unlikely to resume at normal levels until at least spring 2021. Every purchase and payment supports the site: car park tickets, refreshments and museum and tour tickets will now be even more vital to its long term survival, as visitors return.
Supporters can donate via the Creswell Crags Justgiving Page.