A WILTSHIRE Community Foundation grant has helped a popular nature centre keep a roof over its animals’ heads during the pandemic.

The Hope Nature Centre in Southwick, Trowbridge, which provides training for dozens of young people with learning difficulties, has been awarded £5,000 from the community foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund.

The fund has already raised more than £1.1m and distributed more than £750,000 to 200 voluntary groups across the county to help them tackle the fallout from the pandemic.

The nature centre and animal park, which became a charity in 2000 and was taken over by the Fairfield Farm Trust in 2018, lost a potential £200,000 in income when it was forced to close between March and June because of the pandemic. But it still had to pay running costs such as £1,000 worth of feed every week.

Marketing manager Joel Pagett said: “Losing that revenue was a devastating blow to the charity as a whole and we can’t make it back really, it has gone. It is fortunate the Fairfield Farm Trust has been able to support it through the pandemic. If it had still been an independent attraction, I am pretty sure it would have shut its doors because of the sheer cost of keeping it going.”

The centre works with the Fairfield Farm College in Dilton Marsh to give its students with learning difficulties the chance to work with animals and also provides a safe training space for young people with additional needs to get work experience. Students and staff used the closure to carry out improvements to the centre but were dealt another blow when it reopened in June.

“The trust has spent £75,000 on a perimeter fence because two weeks after we opened again some vandals broke in and let the animals out of their pens and smashed the place up. It was very upsetting for the staff after they had worked so hard to re-open,” said Mr Pagett.

The reopening saw families flocking back to see the centre’s pigs, sheep, horses, alpacas, donkeys, ducks, goats and birds. “The community has really rallied around because the centre is a much-loved place,” said Mr Pagett. “We have been very busy and that has helped but the restaurant is not open to full capacity yet so that is affecting revenue. We are managing but it is going to be a rocky road for quite a number of months yet.”

The Wiltshire Community Foundation grant will help ease the blow, said Mr Pagett. “The grant has taken some of the pressure off us as we try to get back to some kind of normality because having to cover those costs without the revenue coming in was tearing a hole in our finances,” he said.

“We need to get everyone to sanitise their hands after using the play equipment, so we are going through six litres of sanitiser a day - that’s £50.”

The trust has invested heavily in the centre, spending around £150,000 in total and says it will continue to do so, with plans to improve create more indoor space to make the centre into an all-year-round attraction.

“The trust spent £35,000 on an adventure play area which we wanted to be in for the start of the summer holidays but we had to wait until August. It was frustrating that we couldn’t have families in to enjoy it,” said Mr Pagett.

“But we are still here and the staff are really passionate about what they do so we are optimistic. The grant has really helped us keep going and we are very grateful.”

Find out more about the centre at hopenaturecentre.org.uk.

Wiltshire Community Foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “We are pleased to helped this charity because it does such important work in providing a safe and encouraging place for young people to learn and it is essential it keeps going. The Hope Nature Centre is a vital community asset much loved by the families who use it and it contributes so much to Trowbridge.”

To find out about the community foundation’s Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.