Anna Thompson, Education and Activities Manager

It is said that “necessity is the mother of invention” and this has certainly been true of the Nene Park events programme over the last 15 months.  Nene Park is host to many events throughout the year, from wildlife walks and craft activities led by our team of staff to large sporting events and charity fundraisers, which we host in partnership with other organisations. 

Our planning cycle usually starts in the late summer for the year to come, so in September 2019 we were beginning the exciting task of discussing what would be happening in the Park in 2020, and then by March 2020, we were just gearing up for our busy year of events and activities. Of course we all know what happened then, and instead of launching the season with our annual Discover Ferry Meadows event, we spent most of April cancelling events and mothballing facilities.  That done, the majority of the staff went on furlough and like the rest of the country, we went into a kind of suspended animation, waiting to see how the situation would develop. 

Roll on to June and there was the first glimmer of hope as the government began to lift restrictions from the first national lockdown and people were once again allowed to travel their local open spaces and spend time outdoors.  At this point we had a decision to make; keep staff on furlough and write off all public events for 2020 or bring the team back and come up with a new, Covid-friendly, events programme.  We decided on the latter and from that point, a race began to pull together an entirely new programme of events and activities. 

With social distancing still in place and with Ferry Meadows already showing the strain of large visitor numbers, our key aims were to offer activities for children and families which did not require close contact with staff and which encouraged people to make use of the entire Nene Park estate.  The answer was to turn to technology in a way which we hadn’t yet explored and make use of our website and social media platforms to promote the Six Weeks of Summer with two flagship events running over the school summer holidays.  The Big Summer Hunt was a treasure hunt style activity sending participants all over Nene Park in search of clues, with the opportunity to win fantastic prizes donated by a variety of local organisations.  The second activity was the Nene Park Explorer Challenge, which encouraged families with younger children to explore new areas by providing a different downloadable activity sheet each week. 

Fast forward through the rest of 2020 and the first part of 2021, and we have gone in and out of lockdown several times with rules on what activities are permitted changing on an almost weekly basis at times.  It has been a challenging time but the team have responded magnificently.  Six Weeks of Summer was followed by our annual Autumn Festival which saw a mixture of old favourite activities such as our Tree Hunt and Broomstick event delivered in new ways, and entirely new activities such as the very popular Scarecrow Festival.  This year’s Discover Ferry Meadows event went virtual with groups who make use of the Park providing videos on everything from making and flying model gliders to upcycling old baths into planters!  We have also been working closely with larger event organisers to bring back some hosted events in a Covid-secure way.  

15 months on and we are still living under the shadow of Covid.  Some things may never return to “normal” (it will be a while before we can go back to offering our Wild Wednesday craft activities, which frequently saw over 200 children and adults passing through the Discovery Den in a 4 hour period for example!).  But we have learned to adapt and innovate, and the challenges of the past year have forced us to review our events programme and give it the shake-up it needed to meet the demands of our changing society. 

This year we look forward to the return of the Big Summer Hunt and Nene Park Explorer Challenge as well as the reappearance of some classics such as Pond Dipping and have-a-go Archery and Climbing sessions.  We have two open-air theatre events due to take place in July and August and we are even working with an events company to host our first ever music festival!  With foreign travel still uncertain, the Great British Staycation looks likely to remain popular this year and Nene Park is ready for you! 

Keep an eye on our social media and website for the full details of Six Weeks of Summer 2021 coming soon!