British charity to close Whitchurch visitor centre

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HorseWorld's visitor centre in Whitchurch, Bristol, is to close. Photo: HorseWorld
HorseWorld’s visitor centre in Whitchurch, Bristol, is to close. Photo: HorseWorld

British charity HorseWorld has announced the closure of its visitor centre in Whitchurch, Bristol, after failing to get council planning consent for a redevelopment plan.

The trust said the centre would close on Friday.

“I am very sad to have to announce the closure of one the area’s much-loved attractions,” HorseWorld’s managing director, Mark Owen, said. “However, I am optimistic that it might prove possible to turn this negative into a positive.

“We hope to be able to help more horses by concentrating on our core charitable objectives – the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of horses and of using the horses in our care to work with children and young people who are disadvantaged or have special educational needs.

“It is important to make it clear that no redundancies have been made at this stage, and we are now commencing individual consultations in an effort to avoid or minimise redundancies wherever possible.”

Its board of trustees said the charity, like many in Britain, had suffered from plummeting voluntary donations, particularly legacies. At the same time the number of horses needing rescuing has sharply increased.

Despite some successes in increasing its income, particularly through increased visitor numbers, HorseWorld has desperately needed to expand, modernise and redevelop its Visitor Centre so that it could accommodate increased visitor numbers and encourage those visitors to stay longer.

HorseWorld submitted a planning applications submitted to Bath and North East Somerset Council in May last year for the development of housing on the visitor centre site, with the sale proceeds used to construct a new, purpose-built visitor centre on the charity’s adjacent land.

By accommodating more visitors, who would spend more money in an improved facility, the proposed new visitor centre would have allowed the charity to increase its income to a level where it would become entirely self-funding. It would also have resulted in significant cost efficiencies by merging the welfare yard with a new visitor centre.

The applications were considered by the council’s development control committee in November and, despite recommendations for the applications from the planning officers, the committee chose not to approve the applications.

The decision was made by councillors, despite being told that a refusal might result in the closure of the existing Whitchurch visitor centre, HorseWorld said.

The planning refusal meant that the trustees needed to review all possible options for saving costs, including the closure of the visitor centre, which for many years has been incurring a deficit of income over expenditure because the centre was no longer fit for purpose and required significant expenditure simply to maintain the old and unsuitable buildings and facilities.

It was also a costly operation to staff because of its separate location from HorseWorld’s main facilities.

As a result, the trustees reluctantly came to the conclusion that the visitor centre would need to close.

The board said the decision followed an extensive collective consultation process held with affected staff to explore ideas and ways in which to avoid potential redundancies.

One of the ideas put forward as part of this process was to use the land, facilities and skilled equine staff located at the Visitor Centre to help address the widening equine crisis in Britain where some 7000 horses have been identified as being at risk of serious neglect.

HorseWorld said it was now considering that option in more detail. Accordingly, it hoped that some of the equine roles, which have been identified as being at risk, may be saved. Other roles are also likely to be saved in the organisation by centralising its cleaning and tack-shop operations.

Horses currently at the visitor centre will be moved to HorseWorld’s equine welfare facilities – Keynes Farm or rehomed via HorseWorld’s loan scheme.

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