My Center Parcs history
I’ve worked at Center Parcs, in the Pancake House, for almost 8 years. Before here I worked as a waitress supervisor at The Swan, in Mansfield for 17 years. I decided one day that I was getting a bit too old for working late nights on Saturdays and Sundays, and dealing with the football crowds. Someone I knew said: ‘Why don’t you see if Center Parcs have any jobs going?’ I saw this one, applied and got it. I’ve been here ever since.
It’s a different place to anywhere I’ve worked before because the range of customers are so varied. You do get your regulars, which is lovely, but mostly it’ll be people you’ve never met and it’s great to interact with them. I’ll always ask if they’ve had a nice time and what they think to our Village.
I absolutely love it here and it’s a brilliant company to work for – I tell all the guests. Everyone just is so hands on; you’ll see Karen Henderson [Sherwood Forest General Manager], walking around the Village picking litter up. There are some companies where the people at the top feel they’re different to the people working on the ground. But they’re not. We’re all human, aren’t we?
My typical day-to-day
The Pancake House is the institution of Center Parcs. I feel lucky. I mean, how many people can say they work in a setting like this? Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard work, really hard work. From welcoming and seating guests, to taking and serving drinks, manning the door, serving food and being the face of Center Parcs, it’s very busy and time flies so quickly.
I’m in my element because I’m constantly talking to people. I’ll help guests, advise them on where to go and what to do in the Village. It must work because people come back year after year. For example, about five years ago I met a couple who had a little baby and I just happened to mention Ashton and Parsons teething powder, so now every year they come in and say: “We’re here again Jill, Ashton and Parsons teething powder!”
It’s nice when guests recognise you, but it’s even better when you recognise them. It makes them feel a bit special and, after all, that’s our job – to make the guest feel as though they’re the only person here. It’s a great feeling at the end of your shift when you’re walking down to the car park through the Village, and a little one whispers to his parents: ‘Mum, look! It’s that lady that served us!’ For just a moment, I feel like Santa Claus.
You might be surprised to know…
I used to be very shy. Now I talk too much! As a youngster there were times I wouldn’t talk to anyone at all. It sounds strange as I’ve spent my entire career in customer service, but growing up I actually wanted to join the RAF. I’m not really sure why that never happened, it just didn’t.
“I’d gone from being shy to working in a canteen surrounded by 1,200 men”
I went to college to be a secretary and nothing came of that. After about 7 months I still hadn’t found any work, then one day my dad – who worked in Worksop Colliery – came home and said: “I’ve got you a little job working in the canteen for three weeks.”
Thirteen years later I was still there. I’d gone from being shy to working in a canteen surrounded by 1,200 men. In that environment you soon find your voice and learn how to have a laugh and banter with them. I’ve been in a customer service role for 28 years but I’ve just kind of fallen into it. You could say it was a calling for me I didn’t know about. I guess it was meant to be.
My most memorable experience
It would have to be my first guest mention. After a break, guests are sent a questionnaire where they can mention memorable staff members and experiences. I’m lucky enough to get quite a few mentions. I often print them out and take them home; it’s amazing all the lovely things people say.
I’ve got a drawer at home full of things that guests have given me, such as thank you cards and letters. I even have an Easter chick that a youngster had knitted for me.
What makes me popular with the guests? I don’t know. People often say I have a bit of a buzz about me. But it’s just my character. Anyone can say: “Hello, welcome to the Pancake House, what would you like?” But it’s about how you interact and come across. No matter where I am – I could be standing in Marks & Spencer – and someone will come up to me and ask: “Excuse me, do you think you could help me?” People just feel as though they can approach me. I’ve got that sort of aura.
I’ll turn around and say: “Of course I can sweetheart”. That’s my line.