Adam Henson: The toughest decision I’ve made
PUBLISHED: 11:59 11 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:59 11 May 2020
‘The Farm Park team gathered together 800 aprons, 2,600 gloves and 120 hair nets which we donated to the Winchcombe Medical Centre’
‘Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.’ Those aren’t my words, they’re the lyrics from an obscure American rock song which have recently become one of those clichéd nuggets of modern-day wisdom; the sort of throw away slogan that appears on mugs and T-shirts. But those sentiments have been very real to me – and to thousands of others across the Cotswolds – in the last few weeks.
The coronavirus outbreak has changed everything. I could never have imagined sitting down with my best-friend and business partner, Duncan Andrews, and seriously considering closing the Cotswold Farm Park. Especially without knowing when we’d be able to re-open and just a matter of weeks after we’d geared ourselves up for the start of a whole new tourist season. There’s no doubt that locking the gates to our loyal, supportive public and sending staff home was the toughest decision we’ve ever had to make, yet at the same time the only responsible and practical thing to do. I was heartbroken, despite knowing we were taking the right course of action. I took no comfort at all from the fact that on that sunny Friday afternoon in March, just as we were saying goodbye to the last of our visitors, the Prime Minister was announcing the forced closure of all pubs, cafés, restaurants and theatres in the UK. More restrictions quickly followed, as we now know.
Unprecedented might be the most over-used word at the moment but it’s the right one to describe the current situation. I’ve never known anything like it and even the generation which lived through the Second World War will tell you that they don’t remember restrictions on quite this scale. I suppose the nearest comparison is 2001 and the controls brought in to fight the devastating outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK’s livestock population. That dreadful year of bans, restrictions, culls and pyres was the only previous time that we’d temporarily closed the Farm Park to the public.
Today, as then, the only things that matter are the safety of our staff, the health of our visitors and the welfare of the animals. A few people have asked me what’s happening with our livestock at the moment and I’m happy to reassure anyone who’s worried about the rare breeds that all our animals are safe and well. They’re being looked after, fed, watered and given all the veterinary checks and routine care they would normally receive. In fact the only noticeable difference to their lives is the lack of visitors and I’ve got an inkling that some of the familiar favourites, like our Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs and Exmoor ponies, are missing the usual fuss and attention! We’re updating Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with occasional photos and videos of the animals, so they’re still the stars of the show, even if they’re out of bounds for the time being.
Our amazing staff have also been doing their bit to help the local community. The closure means we’ve got plenty of spare personal protection equipment in storage. In fact the Farm Park team gathered together 800 aprons, 2,600 gloves and 120 hair nets which we donated to the Winchcombe Medical Centre as a small gesture of thanks to all the hard-working NHS staff employed on the front line. I know there are farms, tourist attractions, pubs and businesses of all kinds throughout the Cotswolds which are doing the same sort of thing. Not to mention the countless numbers of local individuals who have stepped forward to help the most vulnerable people in their neighbourhoods. It’s that spirit of togetherness and co-operation which will see all of us through this, and create even stronger bonds when our community is fully open for business again. As many readers will know, British rare breeds were my late Dad’s life-long passion and the Cotswold Farm Park was his greatest creation; in his final days I gave him my word that I’d look after his legacy. Whatever the coming weeks and months bring, I’m determined to keep my promise. Stay safe.
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