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Crowdfunding effort to support Milton Country Park

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Sarah Harris, project manager for Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust which manages Milton Country Park
Sarah Harris, project manager for Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust which manages Milton Country Park

A crowdfunding initiative has been launched to help raise money to sustain Milton Country Park during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

The park has had to shut or bring to a halt all its revenue streams after the outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent government measures brought in to battle the spread of the disease.

It means that while the pedestrian gates of the park remain open, all of their programmes and events have been put on hold until further notice; the car park, café, visitors’ centre and toilets have been shut; and the children’s playground has been taped off.

Milton Country Park is managed by Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust, which is a charity that receives no regular external funding.

“We’re a charity that runs entirely on its user base,” said Sarah Harris, project manager for Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust.

“Our busiest time is April to September when we have our sports and activities programme, our events, our party hires, corporate bookings, our water sports. In particular, we’d just got an AALA [Adventure Activities Licensing Authority] licence so we were really excited about the [water sports] programme this year. All of that has gone, including the car park fees, obviously. Even if we open the car park it’s not enough to sustain us – we have to now look at getting support.

“Unfortunately, we don’t qualify for the government grant offer of £25,000 for businesses that South Cambridgeshire District Council is currently sending out to people because we don’t pay business rates.

“We don’t have a rateable value, and because we can’t show what our rateable value is they are saying we don’t qualify for that support either.

“We really are stuck between a rock and a hard place. I know the government is aware that charities often don’t fit that criteria so they are looking at alternatives.

“But I would imagine whatever they can come up with is not going to cover or basically be a year’s worth of income, because I can’t imagine us continuing our programme anything like we could have done up to September, which is when we had the Autumn Festival and then go quiet.

“It really will impact us now for the whole of the financial year.”

Milton Country Park initially shut completely, including for the Mother’s Day weekend, which is usually a particularly busy period.

But the trust made the decision to open the pedestrian gates for those in the immediate vicinity to help them get their once-a-day exercise.

However, in future, even once restrictions are eased, normality is unlikely to be restored for a long time across the country, so Milton Country Park has decided to start a crowdfunding appeal.

“We’re open for the public good. It’s so important to local people,” explained Sarah. “You see people are so grateful that it is open, but we’re turning to them now to help us.

“We need that support, local business support [during lockdown] and beyond. We will now be impacted until we can start our programme again next April.

“Every day we had schools summer programmes, corporate events, summer parties, we even had a wedding that was supposed to happen this year and all of those things would sustain us all year long.

“We’re looking now for next year and how we model the park so we can keep going.”

The need for exercise during the lockdown has highlighted the importance of parks and green spaces to people.

Sarah is imploring the public to observe the restrictions put in place by the government, adding: “We’re saying stay at home and really support that message. We don’t want people to come out unless they have to. But it is also really recognised now just how important it is to get that exercise and your daily fresh air.

“We will be really important in the recovery of our local communities to help get them back out and doing things, and we want to be there to support people in that.”

To make a donation to Milton Country Park, visit crowdfunder.co.uk/support-milton-country-park.

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