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Owner of Fenn Bell Conservation Project, Hoo, needs £24,000 to survive lockdown


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The owner of a zoo has described the impact a third lockdown could have on his conservation project.

Andrew Cowell, who owns the Fenn Bell Conservation Project, Hoo, has predicted it will cost £24,000 to keep the business going until March.

Andy Cowell, owner of The Fenn Bell Zoo and pub in St Mary Hoo
Andy Cowell, owner of The Fenn Bell Zoo and pub in St Mary Hoo

In August last year, Andrew offered up shares in the zoo to help keep the business afloat during the initial wave of the pandemic.

However, even though he gained enough shareholders to renovate parts of the zoo, the scheme didn't go far enough in ensuring long-term security for the project.

The 51-year-old said: "We've got enough people signed up to the share scheme to complete the initial work planned, but now we are stuck again as everybody is furloughed, isolating, etc.

"Until we can meet to properly to discuss the future, that's all on hold.

"The financial side of things is an absolute nightmare. We were told to close four days before Christmas, which meant we ended up having to return over £10,000 worth of Christmas event tickets.

Andy Cowell with the Lemurs in their enclosure at the zoo. Picture: Chris Davey
Andy Cowell with the Lemurs in their enclosure at the zoo. Picture: Chris Davey

"We couldn't open straight away as planned, as there is a lot to arrange, so we planned to re-open on January 9. Of course we were then lockdown on Monday."

Andrew and his wife, Kelly Cowell, also own the Fenn Bell Inn, a pub on the same site as the zoo in Ratcliffe Highway.

In line with government guidance, the couple haven't been able to open it since the end of October.

Andrew added: "It's terrible. We haven't had the pub open for ages, which is a huge chunk of our income.

"My electric bill is £600 a week - at the moment, the total of my electric bill alone is more than £30,000 and I cannot pay it. I have no money.

Meerkats at the zoo. Picture: The Fenn Bell Conservation Project
Meerkats at the zoo. Picture: The Fenn Bell Conservation Project

"It means we're going to end up with debt going into when we can next open, which puts pressure on everything.

"We won't be able to do projects that we wanted to, we're fighting against everything and another three month lockdown could be detrimental."

The zoo costs £2,000 a week to run – which includes power, heating, animal food and shelter maintenance.

"That's £24,000 that I've got to find before we might be able to open in March," said Andrew.

"Which I can't find on my own. Now we're stuck not being able to pay for anything, and literally begging for money.

Randle the raccoon is just one of the animals Andy, his wife, and daughter have been caring for. Picture: The Fenn Bell Conservation Project
Randle the raccoon is just one of the animals Andy, his wife, and daughter have been caring for. Picture: The Fenn Bell Conservation Project

"We keep 100 animals on site, which all have special dietary needs. A lot of them need heat, so things have to carry on as normal in terms of their care. It is a massive financial strain.

"We've had £25,000 of government grants in total since the start of this, and we've raised more than £50,000 through GoFundMe pages.

"Compared to what the government has given us, we've doubled that through local people supporting us.

"That's £75,000 we've had so far. This year we've lost £700,000 worth of potential revenue. We can't carry on like this."

To help raise money for the project, a GoFundMe page was launched by two of the park's regulars.

A GoFundMe page has been launched to help secure the future of the animals
A GoFundMe page has been launched to help secure the future of the animals

Nicky Aldred, 56, and Jenny Marcell, 33, set up the page to help Andy and Kelly care for the animals and keep the zoo going.

Nicky said: "It's a cause that's very close to my heart, as I've seen Andy, Kelly and all the staff work tirelessly over the years to make it a success.

"We need as much help as possible , as you can imagine how much these guys are struggling.

"I understand everyone is at the moment but we would hate to see all their hard work go down the pan.

"Andy and Kelly didn't want to ask for help as so many people have given in the past already. But I just couldn't stand by and see nothing happen so I decided, along with Jenny, to help."

A lemur at the Fenn Bell Zoo. Picture: The Fenn Bell Conservation Project
A lemur at the Fenn Bell Zoo. Picture: The Fenn Bell Conservation Project

Andy added: "We have been incredibly well supported through local people, GoFundMe pages, food donations, and I'll be honest, without the local people supporting us, we would not be here.

"I want to say thank you as much as we possibly can. When the restrictions are relaxed we will open free of charge for a week, to say thank you to all the people."

Andrew is currently working 12 hour days and hasn't taken a wage since March last year.

To donate to the GoFundMe page, click here.

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