Keeping the family tradition alive
Andrew Mellor speaks with the owners of Fun City amusement park in Burnham-on-Sea, UK.
The history of the amusement park industry shows us that the majority of parks, particularly in Europe and the US, were founded by individual entrepreneurs and were family owned, and although that scenario has changed dramatically in these days of corporate takeovers, there are still many such venues owned and operated privately by younger generations of the same family.
Nowhere else is this more true than in the UK, where family owned seaside parks and later inland parks formed the basis of an industry that today boasts a vast array of venues, encompassing major theme and amusement parks, safari parks and zoos, seaside piers, holiday parks and a plethora of other locations which have rides and attractions at the heart of their offering.
Indeed seaside parks continue to play an important part in the UK’s tourism offering, one such place being the Fun City amusement park situated on a site at Brean Leisure Park in the south west of the country, near Weston-super-Mare, and operated by brothers Richard and David Cadell under the guise of Cadell’s Amusements.
The beginnings of the business goes back to 1986 when Richard bought a Ghost Train which he began operating at Brean Leisure Park, having seen an advertisement for rides to go on the park in the weekly UK industry newspaper, World’s Fair. Brother David joined him in 1988 and they began adding something new to the operation each year.
"I always knew I was going to be in this business," Richard recalls, "and always wanted to run a Ghost Train, ever since I was a child."
Having successfully operated at Brean for many years, along with a number of other concessionaires, the Cadells eventually took on the complete operation of the amusement park in 2002, some concessionaires remaining for another year before the brothers brought everything under their own banner.
"We tried to move away from the fairground feel of operating," Richard explains, "so we now have staff in uniforms, for example, and a ride wristband scheme. Since then visitor numbers have increased a lot and we now get around 500,000 people through the gates each year, although admittedly it’s free to come in. We don’t pretend to be anything we’re not.
"We are a seaside amusement park with a great atmosphere as that’s what I always loved. There’s music on the rides, but not too loud, lights and other fairground type elements, but then we adopt the rules of a theme park with everything else. Coney Island is our inspiration."
Richard has a particular penchant for the showman/theatrical side of the business, while David takes care of the practical side, in particular the installation and maintenance of the rides and attractions.
"Everything we’ve learnt was because we had to," he says, "as we couldn’t afford to pay people to do things."
Tourists are clearly the main market for the park with visitors coming in from nearby Weston-super-Mare and Burnahm-on-Sea, along with a captive base audience of caravanners at the adjacent caravan park and those from Brean Leisure Park itself.
The park is aimed at the whole family and all ages and although the Cadell’s admit their core market is teens who want to go on the rides ("they spend the most"), the park does benefit from Brean’s family resort policy and the fact that it doesn’t allow gangs of teenagers to book in. So there are never any security issues.
And there are plenty of major rides for the teen market to enjoy, as there are for younger visitors and their parents. Over 30 major rides grace the park, with supplier names such as KMG, Zamperla, Fabbri, C. & S. and Reverchon all being represented, with attractions including the Shockwave looping roller coaster (Pinfari), Magic Mouse Spinning Coaster (Reverchon), Waltzer, Sizzler Twist, the Wild Water log flume (Reverchon), the Factory Miami, Sky Diver, Wipe Out, X-treme, Wave Swinger and Dodgems (C & S) among others.
A major Ghost Train ride, built completely in house and designed by a theatrical scenic specialist, is another of the larger attractions, enthusiasts believing this to be among the best dark rides in the country.
For the 2011 season, the park introduced another major new ride in the shape of the former Space Invader indoor coaster previously operated at Pleasure Beach Blackpool. Originally built by Zierer and subsequently refurbished by Kumbak Coasters while still at Blackpool, the ride, Astro Storm, has been transformed into a Ghost Train style attraction with a space theme.
"We’re convinced it will surpass expectations provided in its previous guise," David observed. "It will feature wind blasts, water sprays, lazer bursts and more and will draw on our knowledge and expertise of how to do these things rather than paying a consultant to do it all. It will be as good as new and hopefully a better ride than before by the time we’ve finished with it."
Also new in 2011 was a large adventure golf by Castle Golf USA and a boating lake featuring J. and J. Blasta boats, as well as an ice skating arena.
Numerous children’s rides are also on offer, as are an amusement arcade, a retro arcade featuring a range of fully operational, old pinball machines, crazy golf and a live, circus style show with free admission. Various F&B outlets are also incorporated into the park.
The Cadells also own the rights to the well-known Sooty puppet characters and a free Sooty show is also provided daily, with Sooty costume characters also on the park on a daily basis.
"Sooty softens the image of the park for the pre-school age group so helps to bring them in," noted Richard, who has also developed a Sooty based coin-op vending machine which currently operates in the park, and a range of related soft toys.
Fun City operates with a staff of over 60 during the main season, opening during the last week in March and closing at the end of October/first week of November each year. Between 4,000 and 5,000 people can be on the park on the busiest days, although as the Cadells admit this is a difficult figure to quantify due to the free entry onto the site.
Fun City provides the holdiaymakers and tourists of the surrounding area with a very traditional style of amusement park, one that receives continued investment from its owners who are clearly dedicated to the cause and passionate about what they do. They are also very proud of what they have achieved and what they continue to achieve – and rightly so.