Sad day as HorseWorld considers closure of visitor centre after planning refusal

The board of trustees at leading equine charity HorseWorld has announced it may be forced to close its Whitchurch visitor centre.
The closure of the extremely popular visitor attraction is one option the charity is considering as part of urgent cost-cutting measures.
As part of the cost-saving review, HorseWorld – which currently employs 62 staff (43 ‘full-time equivalents’) - has started a consultation process with staff that may lead to significant redundancies.
The announcement follows a decision by Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Development Control Committee to refuse HorseWorld’s application to build a new visitor centre, despite its own officers recommending approval.
By accommodating more visitors, spending more money, the new visitor centre would have allowed the charity to increase its income to a level where it would be entirely self-funding. It would also have made significant cost efficiencies by merging its welfare yard with its visitor centre, which are currently at separate locations.
Since the planning decision, more than 1,300 people have signed a petition in support of the proposals. 
Like all UK charities, HorseWorld has suffered from plummeting voluntary donations – particularly legacies. At the same time the number of horses needing rescuing has sharply increased. That combination has left HorseWorld losing significant amounts of money for the past few years.
Despite some successes in increasing income, particularly through increased visitor numbers, HorseWorld has continued to lose money. A series of previous cost-cutting measures was insufficient to close the gap.
Following B&NES’ decision, the board of trustees had no choice other than to cut costs further to reduce the financial deficit. The proposed cuts include further consolidating functions at its head office, as well as closing the visitor centre which has seen significant increases in running costs, particularly energy and maintenance.
Saving money on these two parts of its operations will allow HorseWorld to reduce the overall costs of caring for horses at its remaining welfare yard.
HorseWorld will be exploring ways of avoiding compulsory redundancies and minimising the number of employees affected. It will be consulting with representatives of all affected employees over the coming weeks. The closure of the visitor centre could lead to the loss of 28 jobs.
Should the visitor centre be closed, all animals sheltered there would be moved to HorseWorld’s existing welfare yard.
“This is a very sad day for HorseWorld. Our staff are incredibly dedicated to HorseWorld. They all do a fantastic job and I’m extremely grateful and proud of them all,” said HorseWorld’s managing director Mark Owen.
“We have made huge strides over the past few years – culminating in the plan to build a new visitor centre, which would have secured HorseWorld’s future for generations.  The new centre would also have meant horses would live in as natural environment as possible, out in the fields interacting as a herd. Whilst the staff have tried to modify the current stables at the Visitor Centre to allow the animals more room, they are very outdated and require a lot of maintenance. Sadly, the members of Bath & North East Somerset Council’s planning committee didn’t agree with their officers.
“The current visitor centre is not only too small and outdated to accommodate enough visitors, but it is also separated from our much larger equine rescue and rehabilitation facilities. Keeping both these separate operations running is simply not a financially sustainable long-term option for the charity. And now we have to take some tough decisions to bring our losses under control.
“If the visitor centre is to close, it would be greatly missed by our many supporters, including lots of people in our local community. Once we have made a decision about the future of the visitor centre we will let our many supporters know. In the meantime, I thank everyone for their loyalty, custom and continued support."

Article by: Amy Williams

Posted on: 8th January 2014