Tell us about the journey over the past three years; what prompted the children’s activity review?
At Center Parcs we pride ourselves on never standing still; we’re always looking at how we can evolve our activities every year. The past few years have seen huge developments in our activities for adults and older children in areas such as outdoor activities and action challenge, so we felt it was timely to have a look at what we offer younger guests.
The needs of our guests have changed over the past few years, with more working parents the emphasis and demand on activities that parents and children can complete together is greatly increasing. We also looked at activities for children to experience unaccompanied from parents. We saw an opportunity here to move away from traditional childcare provision and introduce some fantastic adventures for our younger guests to enjoy.
“The demand on activities that parents and children can complete together is greatly increasing”
We started with research, surveying 1,000 guests, and then asked 50 families to complete a video diary on their break. We asked for brutal honesty; what is great about activities for younger children at Center Parcs, what would you change? From this, as well as staff feedback, we developed the concept. We reviewed the detail of all 150 activities available for children and kept those that fit our new concept and identified those that were good but needed enhancement, then retired the activities that we felt no longer fit our guests’ expectations.
What is unique about the activity programme at Center Parcs? What can children get that isn’t on offer elsewhere?
The great thing about our activity programme for under 12s is the range and choice on offer. We’ve developed a balanced programme to ensure there are activities available for children of all ages and tastes. Our activities are categorised and focused across nature, adventure, skill, sports and active and creative. The special ingredient has to be our environment. We’ve put the forest at the heart of everything we’ve introduced, from the Activity Den logo to the materials we’ve used in our new forest craft activities, as well as getting outside into the woodland more as part of these new activities, such as Den Building and Mini Trek.
What about staff training, has that been included in the review?
Absolutely. The training programme we’ve developed with our partners, In2Action, has been at the core of the project. Every member of staff that delivers activities to children has had significant training and a number of workshops have been held across all Villages. Everyone has also received a day and a half of behavioural training, to ensure every member of staff really understands how important they are personally to the individual activity, to the holiday and the memories made by children and parents taking part.
In total, we’ve invested 8,000 training hours, training more than 500 team members over the past three months. The format of the training is unlike anything I’ve ever been involved in before; for example, all members attend the training as if they were a child taking part. I had the opportunity to get involved myself and attended Pirate and Princess Adventure. I made an amazing map, helped look for treasure, sang songs with Percy the Pirate and many other things that I never thought I’d do in my typical working day!
It’s been a massive undertaking across all five Villages. But what has been the most challenging part of the three-year journey?
I think, as with many big projects, the biggest challenge is getting started. We’d asked our guests for their feedback and they told us very clearly. We knew we needed to make a big change. But where do you start? We found that the answer is in the detail. Stripping it all back and identifying the gaps and then searching for enhancements and new activities really got us on our journey.
“We’ve invested 8,000 training hours, training more than 500 team members over three months”
After that, the momentum took over as we went through the remaining months and years of the work. As the project has moved on, it’s touched every part of the Center Parcs business, from operations and development to digital and ecommerce, to marketing, IT and finance. It’s been a great team effort.
And your proudest moment?
There have been many proud moments already, especially over the past few months as we began to see the new concept and activities trial across the Villages. I have three examples that come to mind. Firstly it’s seeing the transformation of the buildings, seeing Activity Den come alive at Woburn Forest and knowing this will soon replace Time Out Club at the other Villages. The name, the colours – even the toadstool stools – really create that enchantment we’ve strived for.
Secondly, at Sherwood Forest a couple of months ago I watched the start of a new activity, Chocolate Chefs Academy, where I saw the training and hard work really come to life. The team member was transformed into a master chocolatier before performing proudly and confidently, really getting into the character. I watched the children mesmerised, their imaginations captured; it was just wonderful.
Thirdly, pride for myself and my job always comes when I see guests enjoy an activity. I recently watched our enhanced Teddy Bears’ Picnic activity being carried out, and it really brought a lump to my throat as a little girl turned to her dad and said: “Daddy, that’s the best teddy bears’ picnic I’ve ever been to”, clutching her new teddy as she left.
If you could take part in one of the new children’s activities, what would it be and why?
That’s a hard one. I’ve been so close to them that I’d want to do them all – take a week off and try them! But if I have to pick one I’d choose Den Building, which is one of our Family Adventure activities, suitable for children of all ages. I’m itching to have a go. The session is led by a den master who’ll take you to a secret forest location, where you’ll forage for materials as you go, hearing the den master’s stories before creating your very own den with the family. I think that’s just the epitome of the uniqueness and joy of being in the forest during a Center Parcs break, where family memories are created.