Glen, our Village Director at Whinfell Forest has given us a little insight into what has been going on during the last ten months.
Firstly, could you describe your role at Center Parcs?
So, I’m Whinfell Forest’s Village Director, which means that I oversee the whole operation at our beautiful Cumbrian village. I’ve worked at Center Parcs for almost 8 years now and have been in this role for 3 years.
At the minute, every Center Parcs village is closed. What has this time been like for you?
To go from being open and busy 365 days a year, to being closed has been a huge learning curve. We’re constantly planning, replanning and then planning again, just trying to keep on top of the changing situation. But a closed Center Parcs village certainly doesn’t mean a quiet one. We’ve had lots to do and have tried our very best to use this opportunity to do the jobs that would normally need lots of logistics. For example, the Whinfell Forest team are deep cleaning, carrying out maintenance work and keeping the village looking beautiful. You might think that no guests means that we can relax, but absolutely not, the team have even been out shovelling snow to make sure that the paths are clear and accessible for the team who are still working.
That sounds like there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Do you have a full team working on these tasks?
We have a skeleton team working at the moment, which we’re calling the Village Task Force. It’s made up of around 110 people from several departments, all of whom are needed to keep our village ticking over. Our team, usually more than 1400, has been reduced significantly and we’re working in shifts to make sure that people are social distancing and safe. The rest of the Whinfell team are furloughed but we’re keeping in touch regularly, which I feel is so important. We can’t wait to welcome everyone back.
Has there been anything they’ve been working on that you think might surprise people?
Absolutely. Those little details that make the Center Parcs experience so special are being maintained in waiting for our wonderful guests to return. We have more than 1000 species of tropical plants dotted around Aqua Sana, the Village Centre, the Sports Plaza and our Subtropical Swimming Paradise. The plants’ needs to be situated in a warm climate are being delicately balanced with our efforts to reduce energy usage. On a similar note, our Subtropical Swimming Paradise, usually heated to 29.5C, is running at 12 degrees to save energy. In fact, having an empty pool has meant that the underwater diver isn’t required to maintain the pool, instead, we can drain it if need be, which is no small task! We’ve also serviced our fleet of 3500 bikes, and they will all get checked again before reopening.
Even so, the village must feel much quieter without guests. How are the wildlife coping?
They are most definitely getting braver and more confident. We’ve had deer strolling right up to the Village Centre! All the animals are used to being fed by our guests, so we’ve been taking that responsibility on ourselves and leaving feeders out for them to enjoy. We’re also continuing to survey the forest, including our trees, badger setts, bats and our famous red squirrel dreys. Although they are ruling the roost at the moment and enjoying having the place to themselves, we can tell they’re looking forward to our guests returning just as much as we are.
I bet everyone is excited for our guests to return. How have you been keeping yourself and your team motivated?
I think the key is keeping in touch as much as possible. We’re a big team and so the furlough scheme has been essential for us. Each furloughed team member will get a personal call for a check-up and to hear a friendly voice. This is something that we’ve found has made a real difference in keeping spirits up. For the skeleton team still working on village, we’re making sure that they are looked after and that there’s a treat from time to time, such as a special lunch cooked by one of our chefs or a virtual fundraising event for our charity partner Together for Short Lives.
One thing I did to lift my own spirits when we were open was to upgrade a family from a Woodland Lodge to one of our brand-new luxury Treehouses. I picked the family at random and called them myself. Despite thinking that it was a hoax at first, they had an amazing time in the Treehouse and were incredibly grateful for the unexpected gesture. They were in fact a family of nurses – I couldn’t believe it!
That is lovely and very generous! Looking ahead, how difficult it is to reopen a Center Parcs village?
There’s certainly a lot of elements that need to be carefully considered. However, we’re much more familiar with the process than ever before and the reopening plans are ready to roll out as soon as we get the green light. Our staff will return in a phased approach, and there will be refresher training sessions to make sure everyone is up to speed and ready to start delivering excellent service from day one. The lucky members of our Leisure team will even be out testing the zip wire on our Aerial Adventure and our Lifeguards will be testing the slides. That should get them back into the Center Parcs spirit in no time!
And finally, is there anything that’s made you feel really proud during the last ten months?
The whole Center Parcs team has been exceptional at adapting, remaining resilient and taking everything in their stride. The business’ commitment to protecting jobs hasn’t faltered throughout the past ten months and I feel incredibly proud to work for a company that looks after its employees the way we have. That is something that I’ll never forget. The team at Whinfell Forest never fail to amaze me in their attitude and positivity. We’ve even had a few of our Center Parcs nurses sign up to administer vaccines and a team coordinating donations of our excess stock to our local food bank. My team constantly have me brimming with pride.