25 years of holidaying

Center Parcs feature.  Pictured is General Manager Karen Henderson who has worked at the site for 25 years  (w120611-5b)  picture by Mark Fear.
Center Parcs feature. Pictured is General Manager Karen Henderson who has worked at the site for 25 years (w120611-5b) picture by Mark Fear.

It’s 25 years since Center Parcs opened its first UK holiday village on Worksop’s doorstep.

The idea of staying in a forest and swimming under a giant dome seemed like a curious one back in 1987 - but it quickly caught on.

The Sherwood Forest park achieves a remarkable 97 per cent all-year-round occupancy rate, even in the current tough economic climate.

On Monday morning this week the place was packed with families, while cars of new arrivals were queuing to get in.

General manager Karen Henderson, 54, of Elmton, was there to welcome the very first visitors all those years ago.

She said: “I started in January 1987 and we opened in June that year.”

“I was taken on as housekeeping manager and worked my way up. It doesn’t feel like it’s been 25 years, the days fly by.”

Being the first Center Parcs in the country - there are now four and a fifth on the way - meant there was a learning curve to climb.

The Center Parcs concept had come over from Holland, where bikes were a big feature.

“We thought bikes wouldn’t be as popular over here so we had 300 for hire, but we were wrong. They were really popular and now we have 3,000,” said Karen.

“We started off offering 30 activities and now there is a choice of 200, everything from pottery to falconry. We are constantly adapting and listening to what our customers tell us.”

Strolling around the park she is clearly passionate about the place, stopping to pick up a couple of pieces of litter and describing her love of the forest environment.

“Every season is special, it’s a great place to work. I like spring when we get the yellow of the daffodils, followed by the bluebells and hyancinths.”

“And Christmas is fabulous, when we have firework displays and Santa on a boat on the lake.”

Her highlights of the past 25 years include the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations, when a planned lakeside picnic had to be moved indoors because of the wet weather, and celebrating the new millennium in 2000.

Center Parcs has space for 4,500 guests who are looked after by 1,500 staff, many of whom have been there since it opened.

Buses collect housekeeping staff from the surrounding area, including Worksop, to bring them into work.

Back in 1987, when Notts was reeling from pit closures, Center Parcs provided much-needed employment opportunities.

Many ex-miners found work at the park in technical services, ground services, catering and window cleaning.

Visitors come from all over the country, as well as locally. “Once you’re here it feels like you’re in a completely different environment, even if you only live a few miles away,” said Karen.

The Robinson family, of Huddersfield, have holidayed at Center Parcs about 20 times in the past 19 years. Sharon Robinson, whose parents Bob and Brenda Atkinson live at Dinnington, said: “It’s an easy holiday because it gives everyone something to do.”

“Our favourite thing is the swimming which is free, we stay in the pool all day, and we bring our own food. It can be as cheap or expensive a holiday as you want it.”