There will be very few people in the North East of Scotland who don’t have a photo of themselves with Humpty Dumpty from Storybook Glen – I know I’ve got one from my childhood and we’ve got one of our own kids posing with the papier-mache egg. And we took our youngest, Jenna, back to Storybook Glen today while Jake was out with the Beavers at Templars Park and to be honest it just reminded me of a comment made the other day from a friend Moray Barbour about Aberdeen’s potential.
I blogged about the oil industry’s relationship with Aberdeen and said that I thought there was a lack of real connection between the two and Moray pointed out that there was potential in this area that had never been tapped. Storybook Glen is one of many Aberdeen-based projects that show potential but never really achieve it. For Jenna at three years old then it’s fine but any older and they start to see it for what it is – quite poor. When it first opened in the 80s it was of its time and was such a new and different thing that it worked for kids of all ages – but with today’s generation of rug rats they need more than painted figures to make it a real day out.
Rather than trash the place, because I still have a soft spot for it, I’d rather consider how it and other attractions in the area could improve and reach that potential that we are talking about.
Considering the problems that Doonies Farm always have why don’t they combine forces with Storybook Glen and make “Old MacDonald’s Farm” a real farm with a decent sized area given over to live animals rather than one highland cow, two pigs and a handful of hens. By bringing the troubled rare breed farm into the Maryculter park you would improve both attractions in one blow. Despite me mocking the papier-mache characters they do a job, but if you combined it with a few real staff and opened up some of the buildings and made them interactive then kids of all ages would flock to see the attractions. What if you could go into the seven dwarf’s house and see how they live from behind a barrier with a member of staff as security then it would make it more of a visit. Many of the buildings used to be accessible but due to thefts and damage they closed them all up – how does that improve things for anyone?
If you have a statues and tableaux then at least cut back the trees and bushes so you can still see them – Three Blind Mice were barely visible, Sing a song of sixpence had vanished up a tree, and Jack be Nimble was completely hidden from sight. The other issue is that many children these days don’t know these classic nursery rhymes and stories to a simple booklet with them all in – or at least a shop where you could buy up the Ladybird Books at the end would bring an educational dimension to the trip. When I were’t lad we could buy a brochure with the rhymes in an d we loved going round finding them and reciting the verses about them so bring it back. If you treat kids like idiot then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The other educational and interactive option would be cheap and easy to implement – tepees around the park where you could go to hear some of the rhymes and stories being read out by staff dressed up as characters. Not only would this provide a bit of respite for the parents but then you throw in the photo opportunities for the kids and everyone’s happy. Add to that a few characters in costumes around the park for little meet & greets and photo opps then again you make it more appealing. It also needs more play park apparatus to make it more appealing to the older brothers and sisters who have to tag along. I’ve seen other parks with forts and little zip wires that would make it more appealing to the Primary School aged kids.
The big investments though that would change this from a small local novelty to a decent day out would be things that would require serious money, but then they could charge a larger entry fee to cover maintenance. They need to put a café or restaurant in the actual park itself rather than at the entrance to get people to go there and spend money and more time. There should be a few small themed rides – a classic horse carousel, a miniature railway, a maze like the one from Wonderland would all be simple enough and would bring the park an edge commercially. Use more classic book ideas to get music or movement into the attractions – simple animatronics could again give the park an edge.
There is so much that could be done from hosting special events at Halloween, Christmas and Summer picnics to doing themed birthday parties, storytelling or writing events that it’s frustrating to see that lost potential in it. I know they’ve had problems with security but again if it’s improved and the investment made then you get the money back through entrance fees. Yes it takes someone to take a risk, but I genuinely believe if someone did it, they would see the benefits almost instantly.
In a landscape where you have kids that have been to Disney or Peppa Pig World or Thomas Land you can’t just sit back and not develop your product – of course Storybook Glen is not going to compete with these places financially but it could bring itself up to date a bit without breaking the bank. Standing still as the place has done, but for a fresh lick of paint every other year is not enough to keep the kids entertained beyond an hour. It makes me sad to think that yet again Aberdeen is sitting with a huge potential here and just can’t, or won’t even try, to achieve it.