I have an emotional attachment to Robin hill that no grown man should have about a mid-sized country park.
The future is not looking great for the park, which closed early this year, cancelled its winter events and is being put up for sale.
Here's the full statement, copied and pasted from the Robin Hill website:
Vectis Ventures, the Isle of Wight based holding company that controls and operates the leading attractions; Blackgang Chine and Robin Hill, has today announced that it intends to sell its Robin Hill attraction and has instructed Savills to market the property as a going concern.
The decision to sell Robin Hill has been necessitated by a prolonged period of financial turbulence following Covid and acerbated by the cost-of-living crisis and poor Spring and Summer weather. These factors have stretched the finances of Vectis and the eventual sale of Robin Hill will strengthen the balance sheet of the group, allow borrowings (debt) to be repaid and to release funds for further investment in Blackgang Chine.
Alexander Dabell, owner of Vectis Ventures said: “It is with a heavy heart that we have taken the decision to sell Robin Hill. It is a much-loved attraction and has given millions of visitors’ great pleasure and memorable visits over many years. It has been a privilege for my family to be the custodians of this fine site for nearly thirty years. However, the stark reality of the economic picture is that without a sale, the debt created through Covid loans, would need to be extended further into the future and would prevent investment in the short term. The truth is that visitor numbers have been effected by the very poor weather we have seen the past two seasons, which has given us no choice but to sell Robin Hill and focus our investment in Blackgang Chine. Robin Hill is being marketed as a going concern, and we have every hope that it will flourish under new ownership, when a suitable buyer can be found”.
With regards to staffing, Dabell confirmed, “regrettably the group is unable to support the number of staff currently employed and as part of the sale process we are entering into consultation with the workforce where it will be explained that around ten jobs will be at risk. We have worked hard to try to train and retain the talent in the business and we have a reputation as a reliable employer, but the testing economic picture is such that we simply cannot carry the existing high headcount”.
It is anticipated that some of the attractions at Robin Hill will transfer to Blackgang Chine and that the sale will trigger further investment at the Ventnor site.
Dabell continued, “It is with regret that having made the decision to sell Robin Hill that we will of necessity have to cancel the Polar experience and the Christmas parties. However, full refunds will be made to those who placed their deposits with us and no one will suffer any financial loss.
What now for Robin Hill?
Of course, it would be wonderful if Robin Hill stays as a publicly accessible theme park but who knows what the future holds. We do know that some elements will probably move to Blackgang Chine (see above), which suggests that it is going to change one way or another.
My money is on something turning up where Cliffhanger once stood at Blackgang Chine. Perhaps the Cows Express? Or Colossus? Or The Ripple? Will the animals in the African Adventure return to Blackgang Chine? What about the Observation Tower that came from Blackgang?
I have no insider information here, just having a bit of a guess
Back in the day
My first memory of visiting Robin Hill was not until the late 90s for a birthday party. I think we may have visited earlier but my parents were more keen on isolated beaches than paid attractions.
I remember playing pitch and putt and finding a dozen lost golf balls in the woods. We handed them in and persuaded someone in the café to give us a free ice cream as a reward.
We visited again around the same time with an American friend and I bought a little trinket of the wooden characters that lived around Carp Quay (the bit with the wobbly bridges).
In 2003, I started my job as a ride operator at Robin Hill and over the next four summers worked on the toboggan run, Colossus, two small rides called Jumping Jets and Neptune and The Time machine (now the 4D cinema). I can still give the safety talks for the Time Machine and Toboggan. I occasionally perform it at dinner parties.
I also worked on the front ticket office and in the shop, selling stuffed squirrels and sweets. Entry was £7.95 but you didn't get free returns and it was a smaller park without the amphitheatre, jumping nets, big events, African Adventure playground, Cows Express or falconry.
My only dalliance with catering was in the ice cream hut where my hayfever meant I had to scoop ice cream in between sneezes whilst the queue grew ever longer. We sold four flavours and I eventually picked up a skill for guessing what flavour each customer would order before they had even decided (70+ granny = rum and raisin, five year old child = strawberry etc). This talent hasn't had much transferable value.
In 2004, the job got a whole lot more interesting when Bestival turned up. Fat Boy Slim and Bassment Jazz playing at Robin Hill? It was barely believable. The year before we hosted a Pink Floyd tribute act that had ended up with a fist fight in the car park and the police being called. And yet here we were, hosting thousands of people with world class bands. Basement Jaxx went on the toboggan run, an inflatable church turned up. It was bonkers.
Bestival enjoyed a number of excellent years with some really terrific acts including Elton John and Stevie Wonder. The Isle of Wight was really being spoilt with two mammoth music festivals (see our Isle of Wight Festival history). We endured the task of cleaning up afterwards (I found some unpleasant things in the woods) but it was a great experience and continued at Robin Hill until 2016.
The Next Generation
I didn't make it to the last few Bestivals at Robin Hill. In hindsight, I should have made more effort but our children had arrived and I'm not one of those parents who drags babies along to festivals.
We made up for it by taking them to Robin Hill for numerous days out as they got older. This is one of the joys of parenting - being able to act like a child under the pretence of helping your child.
The first return was in 2016. By then, there had been several upgrades - including the excellent bouncy nets course and the amphitheatre mentioned earlier. Robin Hill also upped its game with regular events, like the hot air balloon festival. We caught a couple of really good shows in the theatre including Brainiac Live, a fire show, an acrobatic show and Vote Pedro at the Festival of the Dead.
Yes, the price had gone up a lot but if you visited twice - once as a day out and then again as an evening trip to a show - then it was still good value. The night time lighting certainly makes the most of the woodland.
The children love the toboggan run, an attraction that feels like it probably wouldn't be built today (perhaps I'm wrong and these things are popping up everywhere).
They also love the mini village at the top of the park, the bouncy nets and squirrel tower. They also enjoyed the Ripple when it arrived in 2023. It became an annual tradition to get a hair braiding during the summer holidays at Robin Hill. Read the blog about a recent visit.
I'm not too keen to hear whinges about why Robin Hill is up for sale. I've read enough of those on Facebook. It's remarkable how many people on Facebook are experts in business without ever having run a business themselves.
However, I would like to hear your memories of Robin Hill over the years. I have in mind that I might write up a Robin Hill timeline (similar to our Blackgang Chine timeline).
Hopefully this isn't the end for Robin Hill but I think it's a good moment for a bit of nostalgia! Thanks to everyone from Vectis Ventures who has contributed to some great days out over the years.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog