Daragh, thanks so much for agreeing to give us the low-down on what yourself and your team have been getting up to over the past ten months. Firstly, could you describe your role at Center Parcs Longford Forest?
No problem at all. I’m Longford Forest’s Village Director and have been with the company for 4 years now. I’ve been managing here since the village opened in July 2019.
What a strange first couple of years for Center Parcs Longford Forest. Could you describe how things were going before the COVID-19 pandemic?
Things were going extremely well. Bookings were looking strong, our team were finding their feet brilliantly and our guests were giving us some fantastic feedback. It’s a huge operation and something very different in Ireland but we were feeling settled and excited for the future. We’d not long completed our first Winter Wonderland, which was a great success, when we had to close due to restrictions.
Of course. Longford Forest’s first Winter Wonderland went down really well. It must’ve been difficult being unable to offer the same experience in 2020.
It really was. Sharing Christmas with our guests and pulling out all the stops is something I love, so it was tough not being able to welcome guests for as long as we would have liked and without the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. In the end, we were only able to open for ten days over Christmas and it was touch and go right up until our reopening date. Just two days before, we had to completely redesign how the little ones could see Santa safely, which is such an important aspect of our Winter Wonderland experience. Astonishingly, an amazing 728 children managed to see the big man over just seven days. The Longford team did a remarkable job getting everything finalised – the village looked stunning, with thousands of twinkly lights and more than 150 bales of snow covering the forest. We can’t wait to do it all over again come November.
I can imagine! Longford Forest is such a beautiful site. How has it been maintaining the 400 acre village whilst guests haven’t been there?
It’s a huge job but we have a great team that take everything in their stride. We have 466 lodges and 30 apartments with over 4900 taps, showers and toilets, which need to be flushed and run each week to keep everything safe and fresh. We want the village to look and feel as brand new as it did when we first opened, so our Village Task Force team of 110 are working really hard on that. The team are carefully tending to our huge variety of tropical plants, as they’re still establishing, and they’re running the features in our Subtropical Swimming Paradise daily. Just imagine seeing the wave machine in action without any guests enjoying it! One thing that I really miss is the sound of guests having fun on village.
There’s also a lot of wildlife to be fed, monitored and surveyed at all times. Our red squirrels, deer and pine marten are all thriving and we’re noticing an increase in their activity, which is great news as our guests love seeing them on their breaks, and so do we! We’ve recently noticed that our 14,000 planted daffodils and tulips have started sprouting, meaning full bloom won’t be too far away. I can’t wait for our guests to experience the village transforming with the seasons again, it’s such a special thing to see.
Wow, so there’s a lot still going on at Longford Forest! Have you had time for much else?
Absolutely. We’ve continued to engage with our local community in many different ways, and that’s something that’s important to the whole team. We’ve linked with the local Garda to distribute fresh produce and treats like Easter eggs to nearby causes. Just recently the team from Rajinda Pradesh, our Eastern-inspired restaurant, cooked 100 hot meals that we donated to front line key workers at Mullingar Hospital, and, just before Christmas, we gave our local schoolchildren a goodie bag with treats in to enjoy whilst watching The Late Late Toy Show. We’ve also been supporting the fantastic Penny Dinners with food to convert into food hampers for those in need.
We have various longer-term partnerships too. The Longford team never stop fundraising for our charity partner Barretstown, and some of our Leisure team even volunteered at some of their virtual camps. We’ve also been continuing to help with the Tidy Towns initiative by litter picking in the community.
Sounds like there’s a huge variety of work keeping the Village Task Force busy. How are the rest of the team? Have you been keeping in touch?
We have yes. We make sure that all staff on temporary lay-off are being engaged with regularly through chats with their team, virtual coffee mornings, and our keeping in touch projects. We’re a relatively new workforce and we even have team members who relocated and have been away from their family, so we’ve some unique challenges to deal with. Despite this, the whole team have been brilliant at keeping positive, adapting, and finding new ways to keep spirits high. The Village Task Force have been appreciative of work and those on lay-off can’t wait to get back, and we’re ready and waiting to welcome them back into life at Longford Forest as soon as we can.