Web ExclusiveA sad day for HorseWorld today, with news coming in on what was meant to be the last day of a “consultation” into the options open to the Whitchurch equine charity to secure its financial future: it seems that the VISITOR CENTRE WILL DEFINITELY CLOSE this Friday 28th February.

Sources tell us that embattled managing director Mark ‘Not That One’ Owen “didn’t even have the balls to do the deed himself”, preferring instead to send out a staff representative to spread the bad news to employees.

It is understood that today’s dark announcement confirms the decision to shutter the visitor centre made at a meeting last week of the charity’s trustees “in a SECRET LOCATION”. As one angry source told us:

[The trustees] usually meet at HorseWorld in the visitor centre cafe, but that’s a no-no for them now, of course, lest the staff actually get to meet the trustees who NEVER visit the place and, worse still, have a chance to influence their daft decision making…

As the GMB union’s Rowena Hayward – who has been acting for those facing redundancy – notes, staff “feel very pressurised, very stressed, very anxious…and VERY LET DOWN” about how the situation has been handled.

Meanwhile word reaches us that a wide variety of people connected with HorseWorld’s important animal welfare work – including staff, former volunteers and financial supporters – “have had SEVERE PRESSURE put on them, in various ways, to keep shtum and not whistle-blow these last couple of weeks.”

Taken together with recent efforts to prevent critical media coverage, it gives the impression of a coordinated effort to silence dissent in the lead up to today’s sad news – though ITV West was able to screen a news package on the threat to jobs, with papers including the Bristol Post and The Week In joining The BRISTOLIAN in shining a light on the running of the charity.

With the curious decision to close the visitor centre – and so lose a valuable point of contact with the public, and an important revenue stream – now rubber-stamped and announced, it seems likely that those who until now kept quiet will instead voice their concerns publicly.

One question remains:

Why are those at the sharp end of HorseWorld’s animal welfare work – both human and equine – the ones currently bearing the brunt of bad business decisions, and not those in senior management who actually made them?


  1. Jamie

    As a member of the Weekend Visitor Services Team at HorseWorld Visitor Centre, I am clearly extremely disappointed to hear of this sad news today. Who would have thought that when leaving work on Sunday evening it would actually be my last day! As if being made redundant wasn’t bad enough, to then be told that I won’t get to work with all my wonderful colleagues (who are also dear friends) is just heartbreaking. To say that I am gutted is an understatement.

    1. Jooohn Ag Post author

      So sorry to hear that Jamie – you and all your excellent colleagues helped to make HorseWorld such an important organisation, both in terms of animal welfare and public education.

      We really hope that this is not the end of the whole story, just one chapter, and that everyone who built up HorseWorld will see it rise again…

  2. Frustrated

    How on earth is this happening. Those high and mighty with HW must fall. All the little guys keep your heads up – HW loss will be someone else’s massive gain who doesn’t want fully loyal dedicated staff. Let’s hope all the local children aren’t too upset also! Such an awful awful shame!!

    1. Unbelievable

      Totally agree “Frustrated”. Although, lets not forget those local children will be turning up on Saturday morning only to find that the place is empty. Just as I thought this Mis-Management couldn’t get any worse!! Wonder why there is such a hurry to close the Visitor Centre!?!? Anyone know???

  3. Stockwood Pete

    This is sad news… all the worse for being so totally unnecessary.

    We live locally and, although we’re not specially interested in horses, we’d bring our grandchildren along – very good value it was too, with a year’s membership. We’d use the cafe, the kids would buy stuff in the shop, and we joined the ‘adoption’ scheme.

    But the big plan to sell off the visitor centre for a spec housing development and build a bigger new one, further away, never looked sustainable in any respect – so we opposed it. Even if BaNES had approved it, it would never have worked.

    HorseWorld won’t get any support from us now. Not to pay for the MD’s Audi while the workers are paid off.

    1. Jooohn Ag Post author

      It’s certainly a sad state of affairs – and yet it seems that it can still be turned around, if big enough changes to the running of the charity were made, which redressed the balance back in favour of animal welfare work and not the appearance of perks for bosses…

  4. James

    It takes a uniquely incompetent management team to run HW into the the ground like this. Owen hasn’t resigned for several reasons- the main two being that who else would employ such a clown, and his severe lack of humanity. It’s ironic that the blinkers at HW are being worn by the SMT and not the the animals that the charity was founded to care for. The Audi alone could keep two staff full time, and his negligent farce of a directorship ought to land him in jail, as opposed to the staff who will struggle to buy beans once redundant. I’m disgusted beyond belief. Bristolian- please push this scandal to the likes of Private Eye, the Charity Commission, the Guardian, Horse and Hound, the lot.

    1. Jooohn Ag Post author

      We will do our best to see this story spread further than it has, James – but bear in mind that so strong was the iron grip of the bosses at HW on local media coverage that for more than six months The BRISTOLIAN was virtually the only outlet publishing stories which questioned the ‘official’ line.

      Thankfully in recent days and weeks the The Week In, Bristol Post, Western Daily Press, ITV West and others have all been serving up more critical coverage, despite the best attempts of the senior management team’s to censor accurate reporting through the deployment of lawyer’s letters.

  5. Lisa

    It’s quite ironic really isn’t it? Owen claims that “The Bristolian” (along with anyone else who has dared to bat an eyelid at his mismanagement, eg GMB Union) are harming the charities reputation. Someone please buy Mr Owen a mirror so he can take a good look at himself. He is the one who is ruining the charities reputation on such a ridiculous salary for a SMALL Equine CHARITY! And despite the accounts so say being in deficit for the last god knows how many years, he has still continued to have pay rises, and of course not forgetting the good old Audi! “Stockwood Pete” is proof of many, who will now no longer support the charity, now that the truth is exposed. And of course the “We’re closing the Visitor Centre so you can’t see the animals…..BUT PLEASE STILL GIVE US CASH (…because my Audi is due an MOT next month)” line is really going to work!

    1. Jooohn Ag Post author

      Thanks for the comment Lisa.

      As you say, it’s implausible to suggest that recent honest reporting is the reason behind years of financial decline – yet still that is the line being peddled.

      It’s spin, and it’s not washing with those who have been facing redundancy.

      Changes must be made at HorseWorld. But sacking staff, closing doing revenue streams, reducing animal welfare work and limiting public contact are the wrong changes.

  6. Ruthless

    I was completely stunned, saddened and dismayed to hear this news, and find it incredible how this decision could have been reached, without fundamental questions raised by many sources being answered. The questions are still relevant and still unanswered, so here we go again:

    1) Now the Visitor Centre is closing, how are you going to replace the deficit in income (approx 40% not including revenue generated by Memberships)?
    2) You have clearly quoted legacies are down, how are you going to increase this income without the ‘Market Place’ of HorseWorld (the Visitor Centre). It also seems, loved ones money is being squandered on everything other than the main reason for giving, the Animals…..would you give to a Charity with that track record?
    3) Corporate sponsors have visibility at the Visitor Centre making it a good Marketing tool to ‘buy’ into HorseWorld – no Visitor Centre = no visibility! How are you going to continue to sell the concept?
    4) The Charity (Trust) has lost money, not the Visitor Centre (Trading), is the cost of planning a key factor?
    5) Can you honestly still pursue the need for a new Visitor Centre when, with the existing Centre closed there is no continuity, hence no figures to base your new business plan on, and no regular money coming in to finance such plans!
    6) How can you warrant staying as MD of a Charity with little to manage, plus retaining a Finance Director who without the Visitor Centre and it’s income, expenditure, gift aid, wages etc.. Will have very little to ‘finance’ plus a Human Resource Director who will have very few humans to ‘Direct’! Three still collecting the same pay packets regardless of the reduction of work load!

    I honestly wonder how Owen, and the ‘don’t give a damn’ Trustees sleep at night…….oh yeah they swig a shot of ‘we’re all right Jack and screw everything else’.

    SO, SO SAD!!!!!

  7. defcon

    This whole sorry saga has been handled in the most appalling manner. I have read posts from all sides and most of the criticism laid against Horseword Trustees and Management in my opinion seems to be fair.

    My only concern is that the employees and volunteers on the ground don’t feel like they are getting the ‘kicking’ The Bristolian thankfully even with robust, no nonsense reporting has managed to separate this fairly. The Bristolian has made it very clear that it supports the good work this charity continues to do and also supported the staff and volunteers who run it at the tough end.

    Only back last year the SMT were out celebrating with “The Post” at being awarded “Communicator of the Year Award” Well Horseworld SMT start earning your award and communicate with the people of Bristol, let us know what you propose to do.

    1. Jooohn Ag Post author

      Thanks defcon.

      We have certainly tried our damnedest to show support for and solidarity with those tip-top people who have made HorseWorld such an important organisation – the employees and volunteers on the ground – and we will continue to do everything in our power to shine a light on what has seemingly gone wrong in the management of what until relatively recently was a thriving charity.

      Why? Because the need for an animal welfare organisation like HorseWorld hasn’t gone away, and neither have the passionate, caring people who want to carry out its excellent work.

      Hopefully everyone reading about this sorry saga can see that there is a big difference between the people who have powered HW through tough times, and those who made tough times even tougher with questionable management decisions.

      HorseWorld staff certainly do.

  8. Angry

    So the deed has been done ! Why why why ? What an absolute waste. What are the trustees thinking of ? How are they going to finance what is left and for how long ? Till all the money is gone ? Please tell the supporters ,because no one is going to give to a charity that puts 4wheels before 4 hooves. Overpaid directors at this much loved charity are shameless. The hardworking low paid staff don’t Evan want things like health benefits what they want are their jobs and the benefits are caring for rescued animals and giving them a better life. Money spent on the existing site would be a better plan than the one that would have put a feather in Mark Owen’s cap. I hope this is not the end of this storey and that HorseWorld will rise again and without certain individuals be a better place . God bless all the staff who without these poor animals would have continued to live not ever knowing what love is .

  9. Ruthless

    So the official announcement has been made:
    Shame no mention has been given to the thousands of ‘Members’ who up till as recently as Christmas and the New Year, purchased a year long Membership. Has Owen forgotten about them?
    Perhaps he thinks the ‘overspend’ will be donated back to the Charity ‘for the love of horses’? Whilst you’re still in post with pay and car……don’t think so!

  10. Liars!

    This article makes me so mad, angry, frustrated and overwhelmed!

    After reading Horseworlds latest news release it is evident that Mark Owen is still spinning the same lies..

    Loss of donations? Loss of income? Loss of legacies?
    More like.. Sorry everyone but we’ve waisted lots of public money (donations, legacies, will agreements) on a VERY expensive planning application and also solicitors and high salaries of three overpaid twats.
    If the charity stopped wasting money then maybe these poor staff and animals would still be working and living at such a wonderful place! The visitor centre doesn’t need to go when every year it’s been making a profit.. Mark Owen needs to go!

    I urge people not to be drawn in by the lies and sales technique of Mark Owen.. The truth will come out whether they continue to mix up accounts up or not…

    Keep fighting horseworld!

  11. Past employee

    I used to work at the visitor centre a few years ago, in the days of James Cretney (CEO), Chris Kemp (Centre Manager), Alex Menhams (Marketing Manager), Claire House-Norman (Head of Fundraising – who was an excellent fundraiser, if completely scary to work with) and wanted to add my thoughts and support for this site.

    I found out about the closure of the VC through the gripe vine yesterday and I cannot believe this extreme decision has been made. I’ve read through many of the comments from your previous articles about the current state of HorseWorld and Mark Owen and being a past employee so much rings true and I can vouch for many of the facts/comments. When I was at HW they were pretty bad at staff management then, but this is a new level! I had also heard from credible sources that a few years ago at the time of the banking crisis that HW lost hundreds of thousands – perhaps that was the catalyst that started this whole sorry mess.

    I’ve also noticed on their website that many long standing trustees that were there in my time (Pam Kemp, Audrey Harrison, Jack (forget his surname??) and were also there until not so long ago are now no longer listed on the HW website – pushed out?? I cannot believe for one moment, say, Pam Kemp, would stand for the VC closure as she had been so involved in its running in the past.

    Like many others have said, what will they do with the site? Just let it rot? How will they make up the shortfall of income from the VC? And how on earth have they got to a £2m deficit? It’s absolutely ludicrous! Can we petition to get these questions answered??

    It makes absolutely no sense to “suddenly” close the VC (why so short notice to close??), it seems like an elaborate ploy to get rid of half the work force to save money – no VC means they can make justified redundancies.

    Good luck to all those currently affected by the closure and I hope you all land back on your feet and find yourself in a place that appreciates your dedication and skills.

  12. Lisa

    So here we are then……almost 3 months on from the visitor centre closure. Assuming all is now well at HW now those financial “constraints” of the visitor centre have been removed……are those deficits being filled? Yeah right!! Not with £80k salaries still going out to the greedy MD !!


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