From theme parks to alpaca farms – outdoor attractions 'fully booked' as they reopen in Sheffield after rollercoaster of a year

Sheffield's outdoor attractions have reopened after a rollercoaster year – and allowed the Sheffield Telegraph behind the scenes of their operations as they look forward to a busy summer after a fully booked first week.

Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 7:00 am

From theme parks to alpaca farms, all of Sheffield’s outdoor attractions had to close their gates at the turn of the year due to the second lockdown.

However, they were finally permitted to reopen on Monday, April 12 as restrictions eased – and the city’s venues have been ‘chaos’ as the good weather and months of lockdown mean people are desperate to enjoy days out.

One attraction to celebrate reopening was Graves Park Animal Farm in Norton, which has been gaining attention from people all over the world during lockdown thanks to head stockman Jack Tankard.

Mayfield Alpaca Animal Farm welcomes back visitors to the venue. Two year old Joshua Hinson and mum Tamsin meets owl, Strix. Picture Scott Merrylees

The farm has been ‘chaos’ since it reopened last week, with sessions throughout the day being fully booked.

Jack said: "It has been chaos, it has been really busy. Every single slot has been filled straight away, which is really good for us and the animals – we must be doing something right!

“We have newborn animals, Lottie our pedigree shire horse has had a foal, and then we have all the newborn lambs and baby llamas, plus all the usual animals from the farm.

"People have loved coming back to the farm, everyone is saying how tidy it is so that is really nice having the public see just how much we care about the animals.”

"It came as a bit of a shock when we went from nothing to fully booked," said Andy Jonas from Mayfield Alpaca Animal Farm. Picture Scott Merrylees

As well as some ‘secret’ plans for later in the year to get more people involved and interacting with the animals, Jack and the team produced live videos for social media over lockdown, gaining attention from as far as New Zealand.

"We are quite big on social media, so we did videos for the public over lockdown and it went worldwide,” Jack added.

"We had people tune in from New Zealand and Queensland so the live videos have proved to be extremely popular.”

One venue that saw a fully-booked weekend was Gulliver’s Valley in S26, which had been closed since December 22 before last week.

Graves Park Animal Farm has recently reopened to the public. Picture Scott Merrylees

"It was absolutely fantastic, it was great to have guests through the door again and, as much as we love each other as a team, it is great to interact with the general public and welcome them back – and they all seem to be happy to come back,” said Ross Partridge, head of customer experience at Gulliver’s Valley

“The atmosphere was really happy, and the mood was up again. The weather definitely helped.”

The theme park and resort on Mansfield Road only opened for the first time in 2020 after a multi-million pound development, but was forced to delay its opening, and closed multiple times after its official opening in July due to the pandemic.

"We closed after our first Christmas,” Ross said.

Two year old Freddie Grantham at Graves Park Animal Farm which has recently reopened to the public. Picture Scott Merrylees

"We were getting ready to gear ourselves back up to go into our winter season for January and February, with dinosaur and unicorn events where the guests stay overnight and get to be involve with immersive events where they go hunting for dinosaur remnants and unicorns that have been wandering around, events that tie us through until the summer season kicks back in – but obviously we were shut down, again.”

The venue is now open weekends, bank holidays, and half-terms, and is looking forward to May 17 when, as currently planned, its indoor attractions will be able to welcome back custom.

Ross added: "The smiles on people’s faces was brilliant. British people don’t tend to like queuing, but they seemed to forget that for the last week, queuing, socially distanced, to get on the rides, but nobody minded. It was straight back into it, and everyone was happy to finally enjoy some fresh air and some freedom and some fun.”

Despite all being fully booked for the first weekend reopen, the closures to outdoor attractions over winter were also a massive financial hit to businesses.

"Financially, we were skin of our teeth time,” said Andy Jonas, director of Mayfield Alpaca Animal Farm in Ringinglow.

"Like any animal place, we have had to have staff in during winter and that’s probably the most expensive time for animal attractions as food goes up due to being colder, hay, bedding, all the extra heating.

Anna, four, Thomas, seven, and Rebecca, six, celebrate being back at Gulliver's

"We are 2,000 feet above sea level here so over winter it reaches minus ten degrees, so all our costs went up and our income disappeared.”

Despite the uncertainty of the past year, The Mayfield Alpaca Animal Farm lets three groups through every 15 minutes, and has spent the first week fully booked.

Andy said: “We were quite lucky we got the tail end of the Easter holidays so we have been fully booked. “I’ll be honest it came as a bit of a shock when we went from nothing to fully booked!

"We have the annual pass holders and offered to reimburse them but they said no and they’ve renewed them. We are hoping to open fully on May 17, including our coffee shop, and the main thing is kids’ parties because people are desperate for their kids to have a proper party.

"We are a bit worried. It’s all that not knowing, there’s no point trying to sell tickets if everything has to stop again. But we hope it will all go ahead.”