Paultons Park has gone from strength to strength since it opened in 1983.
It has grown from its humble beginnings as a bird park and gardens, employing just four staff, into a multi-million pound business with roller coasters, log flumes and the UK’s only Peppa Pig World attraction. Paultons now employs 500 staff and has more than a million visitors a year, but at its heart the park remains a family-run business that has managed to move with the times.
Richard Mancey, Paultons’ managing director, has run the park for 18 years with his wife Sara. They took the business on in 1995 when Richard’s parents, John and Anne Mancey, retired.
John died in 2003 but Richard still attributes much of the park’s success to his late father. ‘Paultons wouldn’t be here today without him. I am absolutely certain about that. He was an extremely determined man and had very high standards,’ says Richard.
John Mancey bought the dilapidated Paultons estate just along the M27 near Romsey in 1979 and set about clearing the 500-acre site, intending to use the land for farming. However, when the family discovered the remains of the derelict Paultons manor house and gardens they decided to restore the land and applied to open a fun park. After four years’ hard work the family opened Paultons as a country park and gardens but soon realised they would need to expand.
‘We had 80,000 visitors in the first year and quickly discovered that, although they enjoyed what we had, they needed more. We needed a large investment in the park and that was a big leap of faith,’ says Richard.
In 1985 the family spent heavily on infrastructure, pushing visitor figures to 300,000 a year in 1986. The Manceys invested gradually over the next nine years, adding small rides and go-karts until 1995 when Richard and Sara took over the business.
‘We realised we needed bigger rides which led to the log flume. The day we opened that the children ran across the park to get to it. That was a light bulb moment,’ Richard grins.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s a series of bigger and better rides followed, including the Cobra roller coaster which is a popular attraction for families.
Andy Fortune, 35, of Milton Road, Milton, Portsmouth, headed straight for the ride with his two sons, Sebastian and Sam when the park opened.
He says: ‘I have been coming here since I was a kid. It has changed since I was young but the Cobra was lots of fun,’ says Andy.
Sebastian, nine, loved the ride too:‘The Cobra made me feel kind of scared. My stomach felt really weird but I want to go back on,’ he says. Despite their continued investment, Richard and Sara knew the park was still missing something.
‘We needed something that was ours, something unique that no-one else had. We looked long and hard at what that might be and then took two years of planning and development to make sure that we got it right,’ says Richard.
The result of all this planning was Peppa Pig World, a £6m investment recreating the world of the hit children’s television series, the only attraction of its kind in the UK.
‘Peppa Pig World is our biggest achievement. It is a quality attraction. Children go ‘wow’ when they see it. They believe they are really there,’ Richard smiles.
Sara agrees: ‘We had to be able to meet the children’s expectations, they read the books and watch the shows so they would know straight away if anything was wrong.’
Peppa Pig World has been an unprecedented success, doubling attendance at the park, bringing more than one million visitors a year to Paultons from all over the world.
‘We have had visitors from every postcode in the UK this year. People come from all over the world, Europe, America, China and New Zealand,’ says Richard.
Peppa Pig World opened in 2011 and has been the park’s biggest draw ever since, and with the park’s growth have come new challenges for Richard and Sara.
‘ I am not in the ice cream store selling ice cream any more,’ Sara laughs.
‘We have had to learn the art of delegation. It has been difficult for us, passing on tasks and trusting that they will be done the way we would do them.’
With 500 staff members Richard and Sara know that their team is one of their most valuable assets at Paultons.
‘We are very aware that we can’t do it alone,’ says Richard.
‘We have a very good team and we know that a happy member of staff is an asset.
‘We have been told that our staff facilities are the best in the country. We have a fantastic prep kitchen for our staff, the guests are never going to see it but we know it makes a difference.’
This attention to detail and quality is evident throughout the park, from children’s seats fitted in all the toilets to stickers for young children with parents’ details on in case they get lost.
‘Of course we’re a business but we are not hard-nosed about it. Some parks we go to, everything costs something but we feel that is not how families want to spend the day,’ adds Richard.
Sara agrees: ‘We had our own children in the 90s. We realised what children wanted in a day out and we understand how difficult it can be to go out with them for a day. We looked at all the kiddy rides that you would normally pay for and decided that they should be free,’
Richard and Sara’s children have now grown up and two of them work at the park.
‘It is extremely important to start at the bottom and work your way up so that
you know when a job is
being done properly,’ says Richard.
‘Of course we would like to see the park stay in the family. It would be nice if the kids wanted to take over. It is there if they want to get involved. Without that close family tie we would have a different kind of Paultons.
‘Our family believes that being a family-run business we will go the extra mile. We are personally responsible so the buck stops with us,’ he says.
So what does the future hold for Paultons park?
‘We totally understand that we have to be on board with technology and social media, and we are trying to lead the way,’ says Sara.
‘I think we were one of the first so use an augmented reality app in our park. A lot of people don’t like change but we have had to look forward and we have embraced these changes,’ she says.
Paultons has managed to maintain traditional family values alongside its modern outlook. In contrast to smart phone apps that help visitors enjoy their stay, the new Paultons attraction for 2014 will be an old-fashioned Venetian carousel.
‘It has two decks and it will be very beautiful. Many people will not have seen anything like it,’ beams Richard.
This continued focus on traditional fun keeps nostalgic visitors coming back to Paultons long after they have become parents themselves.
‘I came when I was a kid and had a great time.’ says Louise Huchins, 32, from Gosport, who has brought her daughter Isabelle, six, to the park.
‘It was a big treat when I was a child. I brought Isabelle back because I remember having fun here when I was little,’ says Louise.
After 30 years of challenge and change, the Manceys could be forgiven for being ready to retire, but that day still seems a long way off.
‘Paultons is our life and has been for the last 30 years,’ says Sara. ‘But I still enjoy coming in and not knowing what we will have to deal with each day,’ she chuckles.
For more information go to paultonspark.co.uk
Rob Lee, Digital Marketing Executive for Paultons Park.
‘The Park has been growing massively in the last few years it has gone from a local attraction to an international one.
‘Everybody’s buying tickets online now rather than at the gates.
‘We have an app that lets people buy their tickets on their phone and then scan the phone when they get to the gates.
‘We also have an app that gives visitors a map of the park and an augmented reality one that makes Peppa Pig posters come to life.
‘In the future we are possibly looking to have wi-fi across the park and to have ride photos e-mailed straight to visitors.’
To try out the Peppa Pig App and see Peppa come to life go to paultonspark.co.uk/peppacamera and download the free app.
PAULTONS ESTATE HISTORY
· 1323 The land is owned by the Abbot of Glastonbury, who sells it to John de Palton, the man after whome the estate is named.
· 1700s The estate is remodelled by England’s greatest gardener, Capability Brown.
· 1939 During the Second World War the estate hosts 15 schoolgirls and their teacher, Phyllis Wilkins, from Northern Parade School, Hilsea, Portsmouth.
· 1944 Paultons’ manor house opens as a luxury hotel. Guests pay 10 guineas a week to stay on the estate.
· 1954 The hotel closes and the house becomes derelict.
· 1963 Ironically, on November 5, the house burns down in a huge fire.
· 1979 The Mancey family buys the 500-acre Paultons Estate and restores its gardens.
· 1983 Paultons Park opens with four staff members, a play park, animals, birds and the village life museum. The park attracts 80,000 visitors.
· 1993 Paultons’ first rollercoaster, the Runaway Train, is built.
· 1994 The park tops 400,000 visitors a year for the first time.
· 2011 Peppa Pig world opens, the only attraction of its kind in the UK.
· 2013: The park celebrates its 30th anniversary. It now employs 500 staff and visiting figures reach a million.