Angela Wright had to get pretty good at tidying her bedroom when she was a child. She was brought up at Hayes Barton farm in east Devon, the birthplace of Sir Walter Raleigh, and every afternoon her parents would show visitors around the house for 20p a time. She says: ‘Every day at two o’clock it would be “Oh my goodness the visitors are coming up the path, quick go and tidy your room.” Sometimes I would be too late so I would have to hide things under the bed.’ As she grew older, Wright earned pocket money by serving cream teas to visitors on the lawn.
She says: ‘I only realized with hindsight that it was a really wonderful, magical childhood. I could make dens in the barns and climb the trees and run wild over the common. And yet it was a safe adventure because it was cocooned.’ The memory stayed with her after she left home to go traveling and then work nearby as a secretary. When her parents bought a farm of their own in Devon she decided to 171 172 How I Made It recreate the magic of her childhood by turning it into an adventure park. She says: ‘I wanted to provide somewhere where families could have a really magical day and children could realize their own capabilities and courage through adventure play.’
It was a bold plan. Wright had just had her first child and had no experience of running a business. She spent six months researching the idea before plucking up the courage to even suggest it to her parents. She says: ‘Their initial reaction was it would be too much to take on. They thought it would be very daunting and they didn’t know if it would work.’ In the end it took Wright a further 12 months of research before she was able to convince her family to provide the financial backing for the park. She says: ‘I had to draw up a very solid business plan for my family to want to get involved, not just financially but also from a lifestyle perspective.
I remember telling them I would make sure they wouldn’t have to work any harder.’ But there were still hurdles to overcome. The Highways Angela Wright 173 Department refused to allow her to create an access to the adventure park from the main road. When it finally agreed, it was on the condition that Wright build a turning bay and entrance at a cost of £70,000. The only way she could justify the expense was to go back to the drawing board and find a way of accommodating more visitors. Crealy Adventure Park finally opened for business in 1989.
It was divided into six areas to suit different age groups, including an animal realm where children can hold newborn chicks and feed lambs, and another area with family rides. It reached its target of 40,000 visitors in the first year of operation and moved into profit in year three. In 2001, however, the business faced the prospect of ruin with the onset of foot-and-mouth disease.
While the park itself was not directly affected, visitor numbers fell by a fifth, which had a devastating effect on profits. Wright responded by diversifying into corporate hospitality, but it was a fraught time.