It’s a classic horror movie cliché, the closed down fairground; eerily quiet and strange characters lurking in dark corners.
And on a bitterly cold February morning, Blackpool Pleasure Beach could easily be the set of a scary movie.
You don’t realise just how noisy a theme park is until you set foot inside the gates when it’s closed.
There’s no rattling of the Grand National, no whooshing of the Big One, and no splashing of the river flume in Nickelodeon Land.
There’s certainly no screaming as thrillseekers brave the rides, nor the cheerful hubbub of friends and families racing round the 44-acre South Shore site.
Instead, you might catch glimpse of a fork lift shifting tubs of water or crates of weights, a mini digger clearing debris or sky-high cranes around the park’s oldest ride, and the latest recruits to the team arriving for training.
And perhaps the ‘scariest’ thing you might encounter are the independent inspectors, who actually make regular visits to the park throughout the year to keep tabs on the rolling programme of works.
The finishing touches are being put in place for the new season, which sees the Pleasure Beach reopen for weekends on Saturday, but there’s surprisingly a lot of work still going on – even with just a few days to go.
Among the biggest changes taking place for 2015 is the demolition of the old monorail station, opposite the Wallace and Gromit Thrill-O-Matic – opening up the overpass area which links the two ends of the park.
Another major project has been refurbishing the 110-year-old Flying Machines, complete with new aircraft although they’ve retained the old-school, traditional feel.
From the oldest to the newest, also under way are the groundworks for Skyforce – a Red Arrows-inspired flying experience, due to open in the spring, which allows visitors to make their ride as thrilling or as simple as they choose in self-piloted ‘planes’.
Alex Payne and Jason Taylor are among those in charge of preparing the park to open again after the winter break.
As technical director, Alex’s job behind the scenes is to oversee the maintenance work onsite as well as the new build schemes.
In his office, tucked between the Grand National and Valhalla, it’s seldom quiet.
In-season, the never-end of the whirl of the attraction goes on around them, and come the ‘short’ winter the team springs into life.
“You only really notice the noise, or lack of it, when it changes,” he said. “So as the park reopens or closes, that’s when you pick up on it.”
Alex’s team fights a never-ending battle against corrosion, as the park’s buffeted by the winds off the Irish Sea, blasting the sand and salt water into the rides.
Skyforce, in the shadow of the Big One’s main climb, will be one of the most exposed rides onsite, and a special method has been developed to hopefully delay the onset of corrosion, while existing rides are showered with love by the team onsite and contractors.
“There’s a team of abseilers working on the Big One during the closed season, chipping off the paint, repairing corrosion and reapplying paint.” Alex said.
“At 120ft up, at the return bend of the Big One, it’s battered by everything. The paint is blasted off by the sand in the air and then the sea air gets into the metal-work. We have to give it as much love as we can. With all the rides, it’s a case of delaying the onset as we’ll never stop it given where we are. I cannot emphasise what a problem corrosion is for us.”
The 75-strong in-house team of engineers works year-round to look after the site, with contractors providing additional specialist services.
This week the last of the rides are being pieced back together, and water tanks are refilled – as no matter how cold the forecast may be, guests to the park will still want to tackle the water rides such as the soaking-promising Valhalla, the kids’ Rugrats Lost River log flume and white-knuckle coaster Infusion.
Valhalla is one of the first rides back in action each year after the closedown maintenance programme, as it takes so long to be ready for riders.
“It takes about a week to refill,” Alex explained. “So the maintenance works have to be complete pretty much straight after Christmas, to allow it to refill and to then be able to do testing.
“There’s so much to the ride, with integrating the effects system and the mechanics, that’s it’s always a big task.
“Servicing the boats is a rolling programme, and they’ll go into the workshop throughout the season, and that applies across the park.”
Jason Taylor, production and logistics manager, is more front-of-house, heading up the on-park entertainment team among other things. Most of his Team Nick staff have winter jobs with the Pleasure Beach, and new recruits will be auditioned later this month, with preparations under way for a host of fun activities.
“Last year we introduced on-park activities and this year we want to really push it forward,” he said.
“We’ve got a Summer Of Slime planned, which is awesome and will be the first time we’ve had slime on park – for the guests and the staff. Where we had the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ film last year, this year there will be Spongebob Squarepants and Shaun the Sheep movies and they’re both so popular as characters here – so that’s another great way to enhance the experience for visitors.”