With Parliament in such a chaotic state, and while we await the chance to vote on the Prime Minister’s deal with the EU, it was a pleasure to come home to Chester at the end of the week, for a dose of stability.
But things got even worse when I heard about the fire at the zoo. It was immediately apparent from reports that this was a serious incident, and everyone’s first thoughts are that visitors, staff and animals were safe.
As always, Cheshire’s fire fighters were superb in what was an unusual job – especially as there were animals involved.
It also seems clear that the Zoo’s staff and management handled the incident really professionally. Mark Pilgrim is the Director of the Chester Zoo, and Mark was away on a scientific study mission. We easily forget that Chester Zoo is not just a massive tourist attraction, but is a world-respected environmental and conservation body: all its scientific staff undertake conservation field work at least once a year.
Indeed, the Zoo’s campaign on sustainable palm oil is now gaining international attention.
The palm oil campaign was focussed around the plight of orang-utans, and it was these beautiful apes at the Zoo which were among the animals to be escorted to safety in the fire.
Jamie Christon, the Zoo’s chief operating officer, managed the zoo’s response and it seems clear how well he rose to the task. I spoke to Jamie a couple of times over the weekend for updates and to see what support was necessary.
I was also contacted by Nigel Huddleston, Tory MP for Mid Worcestershire. Nigel is one of my best friends on the Tory benches as we served together on the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee, but he is now Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Culture, Media and Sport Department.
I was able to brief him on the updates Jamie had given me, and shortly afterwards I was also called by Michael Ellis, the Tourism Minister. Michael was in Chester for the opening of Storyhouse so he knows the city, and I put him in direct contact with Jamie.
One aspect that has pleased me greatly is the response of the public and the business community. The public has responded so generously to the financial appeal, and I know that lots of Chester businesses, large and small, had made offers of financial and other support to help get the zoo back on track and caring for the animals.
This is Chester at its best. Coming together to look after each other.
Here’s to a great Christmas and new year for all.