Wednesday, 29 May 2024
Wednesday, 29 May 2024

CEO of Chester Zoo discusses their charity efforts and plans for the future

Hi Jamie. You are CEO of the most visited wildlife attraction in the UK and in turn one of the biggest charities. Tell us about your role at Chester Zoo and why it is so important you raise donations.

My role is to deliver on the objectives of an organisation which is both a conservation education powerhouse and a leading visitor attraction.

We are constantly in need of raising income to help carry out the vital conservation work we do, both here in Chester and around the world. This in itself is a highly complex task with many competing parts.

The majority of income to Chester Zoo comes from our 2 million visitors each year, and in tough economic times, we are working hard to diversify our income to help achieve our mission, which is preventing extinction.

What are the biggest challenges facing Chester Zoo as a charity, and have these challenges been intensified by the coronavirus pandemic?

The pandemic acted as a catalyst for us to understand we had to change our income model to remain resilient. It became a pause period where we were able to look at the organisation and work out how to move forward.

The zoo had, for a long period, grown and grown on an annual basis and the 208 days of closure were tough but we emerged stronger than ever.

The current economic and political instability in the United Kingdom is our biggest concern at the moment. The cost of utilities, goods and services are rising massively, as is the need to pay our staff a wage which keeps up with inflation.

As a result, our costs are skyrocketing and our income must grow rapidly to maintain pace. That is tough and forecasting what 2023 may bring is really hard.

CEO of Chester Zoo discusses their charity efforts and plans for the future

How are donations to Chester Zoo put to good use, and what are your current fundraising goals?

The beauty of our charity is being able to see all of the income ploughed back into our mission. A lot of our conservation work takes place here at Chester.

I am proud to work with such a dedicated team of specialists who care for our 20,000 animals, our plant collection which includes 5 national collections, our education team who engages with over 250,000 school children a year and a groundbreaking science team who works tirelessly to help prevent extinction.

We also work across 21 countries and constantly have teams of people working in the field and mirroring what we do here at the base.

You have, in the past, come up with intuitive and creative ways to help raise money for the zoo, such as walking one million steps in a month. Do you and your colleagues have any other quirky initiatives on the horizon?

We are always thinking of new ways to raise funds for the zoo. Our Christmas Lanterns event attracts 130,000 visitors a year and is now a must-go event for our visitors.

We are looking at a new commercial opportunity for next summer to remain competitive and we recognise we cannot constantly rely on income from our core market.

In 2022, we launched “Into The Night”, which was an evening event at the zoo in July and August. We are opening a new wedding venue in 2023 within the zoo and will start to build The Reserve, a 56-lodge hotel next year. This will open in 2025.

What other ways can people support Chester Zoo?

Our website is packed with ideas on how anyone can support us. The easiest and best way is by becoming a member of Chester Zoo, which allows year-round access and supports our mission. Adopting an animal is very popular too.

You can also eat at our award-winning gastro pub, The Oakfield, or shop online at our retail shop. This all helps drive income into the zoo.

Chester Zoo gives a lot back through conservation and its Charity Connections Scheme. Why are both of these so crucial to the next generations?

We aim to empower 10 million people to live more sustainably over the next decade. A lot of those will be the young conservationists of the future. Our education work enables us to deliver a conservation curriculum to school children and teach them the importance of the natural world.

In fairness, it is an easy task as many young people are already switched on to the plight of nature and wildlife and understand its importance.

On a personal level, you are involved in charity outside of Chester Zoo, at the Merseyside-based HIV charity Sahir House, as well as the Hospice of the Good Shepherd in Chester. Why are these charities important to you?

The two charities I am involved in, each for their own reason, are a crucial cog in the society we live in.

They are relatively small organisations but I know both touch the hearts of many people who have been associated with their work here in the North West.

Their resources are tight, and they rely a lot on the experience and knowledge of trustees to help steer them in the right path, especially in today’s turbulent world.

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