Home Kent News The fierce challenges of reopening in the pandemic for Kent’s unique zoo-pub

The fierce challenges of reopening in the pandemic for Kent’s unique zoo-pub

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Original article from Kent Live

It's been one hell of a year for the Fenn Bell Inn near Rochester.

The truly unique concept of combining a traditional pub with an eight-acre animal reserve had proved incredibly popular, with the venue going from strength to strength.

Some 50,000 visitors a year were pouring in, and so was the money.

Then came the pandemic.

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Then came a massive flood caused by heavy rainfall, pushing Andy Cowell's business right to the very brink.

But now after everything, he is days away from throwing open the doors once again on April 12.

He's even found to time to improve the already incredibly successful project, with a brand new outdoor bar and new animal enclosures (for new animals) awaiting customers on Monday.

The new outdoor bar at Fenn Bell Inn

"It's been four months and we've lost a million pounds of income," Andy told KentLive.

"But we've never worked harder than over and we're really looking forward to opening again.

"We were quite quick coming to the realisation that most services are going to have to run outside so we've got a new outside bar to make everything easier and we're all piped up.

"We've got a big outdoor area here.

"We've also got a new zoo area – we've got a new squirrel monkey enclosure after taking the Squirrel monkeys from Wingham which had to close down.

The new Squirrel money enclosure

"We've got a new fox enclosure too."

On the side of the pub sits a beautifully crafted and well maintained zoo holding more than 100 animals, from meerkats to owls.

There's a seating area in view of some of the animals, meaning people can combine a quiet drink and take in the experience.

Andy said there's a bridge after which no glass is allowed.

People will be able to book either morning or afternoon sessions to limit numbers, with tickets available on a new booking system on their website.

"That's another new thing that we've had to come up with that from scratch but it's good because we can log everyone's names and details that way.

"The rules are coming out so quickly and so late – they give you about a week and to be honest we're still not really sure.

"And we still haven't had some of the grant money, we haven't received the start-back grant from the council.

"At the moment we've spent thousands of pounds on beer and it's all been on tick."

The business' financial position was even more precarious at the start of this year.

Andy Cowell took over The Fenn Bell Inn in 2014

Heavy rainfall led to major damage on the inside of the pub, with repair costs mounting up to more than £5,000.

The animals also needed looking after with little money coming in.

Some £65,000 was raised by the public through GoFundMe kept them afloat.

"Without the general public we would not be here and we can’t thank them enough for their support," said Andrew.

Now the general public has a chance once again to show their support for what the unique project.

Doors open again on Monday (April 12) and the whole team will be hoping for a far less turbulent time ahead.

Original Article