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Fantasy Island upgrade calls for rope access expertise

Sprucing up a Skegness theme park’s 167 ft-high rollercoaster and iconic pyramid saw Access North Structures flex various skills, as managing director Berenice Northcott explains.

Project: Pre-season maintenance at Fantasy Island Theme Park
Client: Mellors Group
Main contractor: Access North Structures
Completion date: Spring 2017

The Fantasy Island Theme Park in Ingoldmells has been a familiar landmark on the Skegness skyline since 1993.

But when international leisure specialist Mellors Group purchased the 17 ha site last year, it was evident that some changes were required.

Fantasy Island is far from Mellors’ first venture into this industry, with the company also operating attractions such as Nottingham Winter Wonderland and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Beach, as well as the siting of giant observation wheels throughout the country.

At the close of the 2016 summer season, the family-owned business announced a £3m investment in the park, in readiness for its re-opening on 1 April this year.

Underpinned by a 10-year plan to continually reinvigorate the destination, the goal is to boost tourism on the whole of the Lincolnshire coast.

The Odyssey

One of the first areas of attention was the 167 ft-high inverted rollercoaster – The Odyssey.

Built by Danish amusement ride manufacturer Vekoma in 2002, this thrill-seeking ride travels along a 2,924 ft course at speeds of up to 62 mph.

It remains Vekoma’s tallest example of their suspended looping coaster design in the world, and is the third tallest rollercoaster in the UK.

Fifteen years later it is still one of Fantasy Island’s biggest selling points, so it needs to keep looking its best.

More on Working at Height

Maintenance at height specialist Access North Structures was therefore brought in following a competitive tender, to extensively clean The Odyssey while the park was closed.

Using purely rope access techniques, a team of IRATA-trained technicians navigated the ride to clean the toughened steelwork.

The engineers also installed numerous spikes as a precautionary bird deterrent system.

Given the rollercoaster had been newly painted in February 2016, this was all that was required to optimise both its safety and appearance.

Safe ropes

While rope access may appear a spine-tingling approach for a bystander to witness, it is rapidly becoming renowned as one of the safest ways to clean and maintain such complex structures.

Risk assessments and method statements are carried out for every job and necessary insurances must be in place, but the technique itself – which uses a minimum of two connection points – is widely regarded as the safest way to work at such eye-watering heights. There was no need for any powered access equipment or scaffolding which also keeps costs down.

“The rope access technique itself – which uses a minimum of two connection points – is the safest way to work at such eye-watering heights”

The team was experienced working in high-wind coastal locations and there was no environmental impact of the works.

Capitalising on the engineers’ ability to access hard-to-reach areas, Mellors Group also tasked the rope access technicians with the refurbishment of what, for many, is the heart of the park – the iconic pyramid.

At nearly 100 ft tall, this structure has long housed Fantasy Island’s pavilion area with slides, eateries and more. But keen to launch the new season with fresh attractions, the owners designed a more atmospheric focal point, which remained under wraps until the park’s re-opening.

On the pyramid

As part of the four-month assignment, the team climbed through the pyramid’s interior lattice metalwork to systematically clean and repaint it.

A temporary drape sheet was installed to protect the interior; all of the steel and windows were cleaned, prepped and repainted; bulbs were replaced; and the ceiling and glazing were adorned with dark blues to create the feeling of a dramatic sky.

Similar maintenance works were also carried out on the pyramid’s exterior glazing and steel architecture, to ensure a clean, bright appearance that would go on to set the right first impression for holidaymakers.

The contract will now see Access North Structures continue to support Mellors Group with the ongoing upkeep of the park during the off-season schedule, to reduce disruption to the guests.

In the competitive leisure industry, everything centres upon the visitor experience. So, regardless of the height or intricacy of a structure, it is crucial to ensure that safety and appearance is maintained, down to the smallest detail.

Choosing your fall protection

With health and safety now the overriding concern in the building and construction industry, robust fall protection mechanisms are required whether a structure is two or 50 storeys tall, and whether you’re working on a rollercoaster or an office block. Methodologies include:

  • Fixed guard rails – simple yet proven protection for rooftop edges;
  • Free-standing guard rails – a modular counterbalanced height safety system that doesn’t need to be drilled into the structure;
  • Horizontal safety lines – effective fall restraint and fall arrest protection systems, suitable for almost any roof, walkway or industrial safety environment;
  • GRP walkways – glass reinforced plastic which offers a reliable anti-slip solution for under foot.

Determining which fall protection system is most suitable isn’t always easy – this is certainly not a case of ‘one size fits all’.

A site survey should therefore be conducted to assess the nature of the building/structure, the level of access required and the risks specific to this environment. Only then can the best-fit equipment, design and installation be recommended.

To uphold the security of personnel when working at height, ongoing maintenance inspections are then essential to ensure compliance with the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Maintenance intervals will depend on the type of fall protection technology, the integrity of its initial design, the age of the system and its condition/upkeep to that point.

Berenice Northcott is managing director of Access North Structures

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