A Day in the Life of a Theme Park
Imagine that it was your job to run a theme park: spending all your time among rollercoasters and pirate ships and green parkland
You’ve probably been to Lightwater Valley, or at least heard of it. Set in 175 acres of North Yorkshire countryside, it’s the theme park of choice for Yorkshire’s children, with its Ultimate rollercoaster, brand new soft play, pirate ships, rapids, and the new Apollo ride.
Yes, yes, it’s lots of fun, but after a recent visit, Living North was intrigued at what it takes to keep it running. To find out we spoke to Chief Executive Mark Bainbridge who guided us through a life in the day of Lightwater Valley.
Most of the staff start arriving from about eight o’clock, which is when Mark arrives too (some engineers may have been there earlier, making sure the rides are all in working order). His first stop is often the least glamorous place in the whole of Lightwater Valley: the park’s sewage works. They run their own treatment plant, so: ‘Obviously we have to make sure that’s functioning so sometimes I have a quick look round’. Fun, not so much.
His office, which is in the building at the main entrance to the park, overlooks the car park and parts of the park, including the lake (which Living North suggests makes it a bit like a control tower, to which Mark replies that he wouldn’t like to call it that himself: ‘I’m not really a control freak, though somebody might tell you otherwise’). Rather than watch from his tower, he likes to wander: ‘I grab the radio and have a look round,’ he says.
The gates open. Having taken care of any staffing problems, such as people being off sick, Mark will often head out to the car park to help. Some of the parking isn’t marked, so it needs marshaling, and Mark is a dab hand. ‘I’m probably quite an expert in car parking after 30 years,’ he says. ‘We can usually park about 3,500 cars, maybe a few more, but if you don’t get it right you’re chasing your tail all day.’
The public (you and me) has started arriving in the park by now, getting on the rides, eating and drinking, and the mission is to keep them happy. ‘We can have all the super-duper rides, but if people are treated badly or in the wrong manner... The people make the difference and we are very lucky in Yorkshire to have very nice young adults. You don’t need to train them too much on how to be pleasant and polite – they come with that.’
Mark continues strolling around the park: ‘I make sure all the areas are staffed and clean. If anything needs addressing I’ll shout the relevant people. I check the toilets as I go past and check the music’s playing. It’s sort of a quality control check – a full sweep of the park and heading back towards the office by 11 o’clock.’
He responds to emails, takes part in any meetings which are particularly necessary when events are coming up, and he attends to the shopping village at Lightwater Valley (which Mark also manages). He will also take a moment to review the park’s attendance numbers over the week – ‘If there’s anything that looks untoward it sort of jumps out at me on the page,’ he explains. He says he can predict within a margin of 10 percent how many visitors there will be, judging by the date and the weather forecast.
He’ll start to think about what the evening’s closing time should be, judging by the gate numbers so far, and the weather forecast. He watches the weather report hour by hour, and he says his biggest frustration is when it’s inaccurate: ‘The weatherman waves his hands around in the air and says there’s going to be this and there’s going to be that and there’a chance of this and a chance of that, but then the sun’s shining here and it’s glorious, but nobody comes because the weatherman said it’s going to be raining.’
Lunchtime – a late one. ‘I like to get things out the way,’ Mark tells us. ‘I keep things moving, so I just go across to the shopping village, have a sandwich and then straight back out. I don’t dwell or sit. Many days I don’t have lunch, but it doesn’t faze me.’
Another lap around the park, radio in hand. If there’s a problem on a ride, or stock is needed at a food outlet, it’s reported over the radio to the office and someone takes care of it. ‘We all have radios,’ says Mark. By the way, just in case you’re within earshot and hear a code 44, that means someone’s been sick. Pity the poor hygiene team.
Mark will keep an ear out for maintenance issues too. He used to be in charge of maintenance so he has a good idea of how long a fix should take. This summer he’s paying particular attention to new rides, such as the Apollo, which is a revolving swing that rises above the treetops. It’s a ride designed for younger people. ‘We’re trying to keep more family focused,’ he tells us, ‘and you get a good view of the park from up there.’
Thoughts turn to closing. ‘We can close anytime from about 4.30pm on a very quiet day, midweek, to 6.30pm and we have gone to 7pm in August. We make sure to give people that are visiting value for money by giving them the opportunity to get round the rides.’
Mark will generally be the last to leave Lightwater Valley, once the final tasks have all been taken care of. ‘Towards the end of the day we’ve got all the cashing up to do,’ he says, ‘and securing the site and getting everybody off the site. Again it’s done as a team.’ Then the gates are closed, and it’s time for a rest to prepare for the next day.
If you’re up for a bit of a trek from Yorkshire, then this theme park in Staffordshire is worth a visit. There are loads of rides, as well as hotels and lodges if you want to make the journey worth it with a lengthier stay.
Another North Yorkshire theme park, with a zoo and holiday resort. There are eight ‘extreme’ rides plus family attractions and shows. There are also lots of cafés across the site, as well as the usual fast food offerings, and three restaurants.