Well, it’s been a long while coming – but at last here is an update, the first since we returned from our winter European travels and started our second season as Holiday Site Assistants for the Camping & Caravanning Club – this time at their site Conkers, South Derbyshire.
Updating this web site is a priority and a pleasure whilst we’re on our travels – it gives us something to focus on and is a good record of our adventure and experiences. Unfortunately, the thought of doing it whilst we’re back to “full-time” work is more like a chore – hence the 4 month gap since our last update!! Anyway, here it is.
Conkers CCC site is in a small village called Moira – it’s on the border of South Derbyshire and Leicestershire, between Swadlincote and Burton-upon-Trent. We are in the heart of the National Forest which is Britain’s newest and youngest forest, claiming to be one of the Country’s boldest environmental projects – transforming 200 square miles in the centre of England.
Previously, one of the country’s least wooded regions, the National Forest is to increase woodland cover to about a third of all the land within its boundary. Woodland cover increased from around 6% in 1991 to 18% in 2009, resulting in large areas of countryside more accessible for local people. More than 7 million trees have been planted!
There are no shortage of new walks for us to enjoy with Sadie and Stella, and in many of them we are already seeing the success of the National Forest project in the diverse range of birds and wildlife that now breed in these areas.
For more information on the National Forest, follow this link.
The campsite is a new build, which opened in September 2007. At the same time the National Forest Youth Hostel next door to us was built, and the Conkers Discovery centre (hence the site name!). Conkers is an interactive discovery centre that teaches children about the National Forest and our environment through interactive play. Or in their words “a hands-on, indoor and outdoor family attraction all about life in a British woodland. A unique mix of hundreds of indoor interactive exhibits and outdoor attractions including woodland, sculpture and nature trails, lakes, an assault course, an amphitheatre, adventure playground and a train ride”. We haven’t been ourselves, but families love it – kids always want to go back – so it seems it’s a success.
Our campsite was originally opened without toilets and showers, but now has all those facilities you’d expect – and of course has the typical look and feel of a Camping & Caravanning Club site. It’s a 90 pitch park, so slightly smaller than Teversal (where we were last year), and as it’s new – it’s a bit “bare” – but feels more open than Teversal did. It doesn’t have a play area as such, but we do have a grassy area where we encourage children to play, so that they can play ball games without damaging anyone’s caravans/tents/motorhomes !
Pete and Dawn are our Managers, and have been here since it opened. The site is open all year round and Pete and Dawn are here all year, but our contract is only for the 6 month summer season.
Our pitch is much better than we had at Teversal as it’s fenced all the way round! It’s perfect for Sadie and Stella – they can come and go in/out the van and don’t need to be kept on a lead. We have 2 electric sockets (one for Bessie and one for our utility tent), and a tap and drain. Our pitch location is perfect for us to clearly see what is going on pretty much right across the park.
We have the most amazing sunsets here – like you would see abroad – but unfortunately the pictures never really capture how stunning it is.
We are 3 miles from Ashby-de-la-Zouch, which is a nice little market town and has a reasonable set of shops and a 24 hour Tesco. In the other direction we are 3 miles from Swadlincote – a bit of a dive, but all the big supermarkets are there.
We thought we were spoilt with walks from the site last year – but Conkers is even better. The choice of walks immediately from site is very wide… from shady woodland (although mature trees are hard to find in a new forest!), to canal towpaths, reservoirs and so on. And on our days off we like to use one of the various leaflets available from the National Forest of walks, which are a little farther away from site. We usually pack a picnic, drive off to the start point and just enjoy a good old yomp ! Our favourite so far has been the Wildlife & Woodlands walk, which is about 6 miles starting at Staunton Harold Reservoir. The walk takes in reservoirs, ponds, lakes, farms, a bit of the grounds of Calke Abbey, Ticknall village (which has a lovely pub) and so on – it has everything we enjoy on a walk.
A section of the Ashby Canal has been restored – from Moira to Donisthorpe, and is only a few minutes walk from the site. Alongside the canal is Moira Furnace Museum, an iron-making blast furnace built by the Earl of Moira in 1804. It was not used for iron making for long, eventually converted into housing for the growing mining community. In the 1850s there were three families living in the furnace. It was finally abandoned in the 1970s and is now a protected scheduled monument, repaired and restored to provide visitors with a trip into our industrial past.
The canal basin at Conkers Waterside centre Moira furnace
We’re not far from various other canals, so have enjoyed taking towpath walks and reminiscing about our previous canal boat holidays. Fradley Junction is only 20 minutes or so from us, it’s the point where the Coventry Canal joins the Trent & Mersey Canal and is an ideal people-watching spot, particularly from the Swan Inn!
On a couple of our walks, we’ve encountered “noon” columns. The columns, around 3-4 metres high, are carved from sustainable English Oak and are placed so that, at True Noon each day, the sun shines through a slot carved in the wood, creating a line of light within the shadow cast by the column itself. The National Forest’s Heritage Lottery funded the project which commission artist David Nash to create six of them, one within each of the distinct landscape areas of the forest. Each column reflects the character of the landscape in which it is situated. The one we saw at Scence Valley Forest Park is charred charcoal black, to remind onlookers of the area’s mining and industrial heritage.
It would be nice if we could get round to seeing all 6 of them before we leave here.
Getting round to the job itself. We both still absolutely love it, and want to do it forever !! We even have to clean the toilets most days here, and don’t mind that !! It does help that the facilities are brand new and very easy to clean, but we do take a pride in ensuring the facilities and the rest of the site are spotless. The downside is that this park is a little too quiet for us. Although not that much smaller than Teversal in terms of touring pitches, we don’t get as many mid-week visitors – but are an extremely busy weekend site. Fridays are manic – with between 45 and 70 arrivals coming just for the weekend. Because the site is new, there isn’t a great deal of groundwork to do – so the days in the week are a bit of a drag for us because we do like to be busy. We have 2 days off a week, which is great – because we do know some HSAs who only get 1 day off a week – and you do really need 2, especially if you like to get off site – which we do. After working for a Franchised site, we can see why people who start on a club site get a shock when they have to work on a franchised site – they seem to expect so much more from you. When we are on evening standby here, we don’t have to answer all the phone calls like we did at Teversal. We have to say we do prefer to be busier, but have eventually managed to adjust to this ‘easier’ life – but we do still find ourselves a bit frustrated. We spend a lot of our time planning what we’ll be doing on our days off, and more importantly what we’ll be doing when we finish our contract here. More to come on that one day soon!
Because the park is new, and was built to spec’ – it’s so much easier to pitch people. You can get big RVs on many of the pitches, people can either drive on or reverse on – which means if 2 caravans/motorhomes want to be next to each other with their doors facing each other, they can. We can pitch tents immediately behind a large proportion of the hard-standing pitches, so can keep people in groups – which keeps them happy. We see a lot more tent campers here than we did at Teversal, particularly as we don’t have all electric pitches. We also have jumbo tent pitches – and goodness me are there some big tents around these days !!
We’ve recognised a lot of customers who had stayed at Teversal, or sometimes they have recognised us. And we’ve even had a lot of customers from Teversal come here just because we are here – which is really very nice indeed! It’s great that we made that much of an impact on them.
Pete and Dawn had a 2 week holiday booked in between the May bank holidays. What normally happens is that the club utilises ‘floating’ Managers, who step in to their post whilst they’re off. But, for some reason, there weren’t any Managers available, so we were told that we were getting two brand new Assistants – who had finished their ‘old’ jobs the day before they were coming here. We were all a bit worried about how it would go, and we were asked not to go away for our 2 days off – understandably.
We needn’t have worried – the new Assistants, Phil & Elaine – turned up full of enthusiasm (and a bit of fear!). They had a brief day’s training from Pete and Dawn and then left in our capable hands!! Well, we haven’t had such fun working on site since the early part of our contract at Teversal last year. Phil and Elaine are similar ages to us, and have a very similar attitude to life – and are basically just great fun. They were both fantastic learners, and really appreciated the time and effort we put into teaching them everything we could about the job. And we really enjoyed doing so. We will definitely remain firm friends with them – the two weeks was over far too quickly.
The lovely Phil & Elaine Jools in action, teaching Elaine
We’ve had a few visitors so far, but certainly not the number we had last season.
Mick & Annie were our first visitors again – and the timing was great as we managed to spend a bit more time with them this time. Hazel & Allan also stopped by for a catch up, after their winter site-sitting at the Hereford club site. Our good friends Steve & Fran undertook the lengthy drive from the Windermere site to come and see us for a couple of nights.
Jools’ brother and wife, John & Nic came to stay for a whole week in their caravan for Jools’ birthday (having ditched the tent after a washout at Teversal last year!)
Enjoying the countryside with John & Nic Birthday bubbly!
It only took us a couple of months to get settled in to a routine with our days off, and to find a couple of small 5-van sites not far from here – where we could escape for 2 nights. It really is a much better way to relax – because you never ever switch off when you stay on site and never have any privacy.
We’ve also gone to the club Site at Kingsbury Water Park (near Tamworth) a couple of times – as that’s where Phil & Elaine have gone to work. It’s good to be on a club site without our uniforms, as no one knows that we do the job and we can just ‘observe’!
Well, only 10 weeks left of our season, and not sure there’ll be much more to tell. But sure we’ll have some news about what we’ll be doing after we leave here! That’ll probably be the next update.
THE LATEST UPDATE.....
Well, where on earth did those 6 months go??? From the start of the season when we thought the 6 months would drag, then it was over !!! Up until the late May bank holiday, and again from mid-September our weekdays really dragged, the site just wasn’t busy enough for us and because all four of us keep on top of all the work, there isn’t even a list of jobs to do when there’s really nothing else.
The second May bank holiday and the following week of school half term was probably our busiest of the season – very hectic with people arriving and departing every day and full to capacity most nights. From then through to the end of the school holidays the site was busy, in fact busier than it had been in the previous 2 years. Although smaller in number of pitches than Teversal (the place we worked last season), it was really about the same number of tourers arriving during holidays and weekends – because Teversal had seasonal and worker pitches. This has become a popular family site, not just because of the Conkers place next door, but because it’s a great place for families – lots to do in the area, and a reasonably large area to ‘play’ on site.
Once again, we leave the contract feeling fantastic about meeting up with old friends and acquiring new ones. We were really very touched by the people who came to visit us here because they’d met us at Teversal, who we are sure will also visit wherever we end up next. Also many new customers will no doubt become friends and visitors to our next site.
Our highlight of the season…?
Well it has to be the two weeks we worked with Phil & Elaine when Pete & Dawn were on their holidays. The four of us hit it off so well and there was so much laughter on site – it was an absolute pleasure. Even customers commented on how good the feeling was on site, and our regular chip van man said the same! Phil & Elaine then went on to work at Kingsbury Water Park which is relatively near to Conkers… so we visited them a couple of times and got to know Barry & Wendy, the Managers. Our visits there were also a highlight in our season. It was a great getaway from Conkers and great to catch up with lovely people there. We really like the feel of the site, and of course, Simon loves the fishing there !! When we stayed there we’d often see some of our regulars from Conkers and it was nice to have time to chat to them without feeling guilty, that we should be working, like we feel when we see them on site at Conkers.
Pitched up at KWP and ready for fishing Success !
It’s strange, but when we are on site it seems that the work we do and lifestyle we have is ‘normal’ – because the people we socialise with either do the same job, or spend a great deal of time on campsites and know many people who live the same life as us. It’s when we meet up with people from our ‘old’ life that what we do seems so alien to them. We really do miss our camping friends when we’re away from campsite life. It’s something we are so passionate about, and it’s sharing that passion that has brought us these new special friendships.
What about next season?
Coming towards the end of the season, all staff turn their thoughts to what’s happening next year. Generally, CCC Assistants tend to move around each season, whereas Managers tend to stay in place for 3 years. In both cases, we have to complete ‘preference’ forms, which actually only allow you to indicate which part of the UK you don’t want to work in and why. You then discuss your preferences with your area manager, who does what he can at the overall meeting to meet your wishes. Pete and Dawn were in the same boat as us as they had completed their 3 years, so we all had to fill in forms and have the long wait to hear if we got what we wanted.
We had two requirements – one was to be a little bit closer to home, and the other was to have the chance to work on a busier site. Looking across the number of sites further South than here, we didn’t think that would be too difficult to accommodate.
Well, we kind of got what we asked for, but the major disappointment is that the contract we have been offered is for only 13 weeks.
Consider this……. The Camping & Caravanning club are seeking further accreditation in Investors In People. We have to ask the question…. is a 13 week contract for 3rd year assistants considered to be Investors in People? Does it show the organisation’s commitment to continuing business improvement through their people? Does it provide us with an opportunity to use our skills to bring benefit and business improvement to the club? Mmmm, we don’t think so. We are full of energy and enthusiasm, have age on our side, and have made it quite clear that this is our choice of job & lifestyle for the future…. Surely the CCC should take advantage of that? When we first raised this with area managers, we were told it was because we had so many constraints in our preferences. We were advised that we should sign the contract anyway and let all parties have in writing our preference for a longer contract, because inevitably other contracts will become available prior to the start of the season.
Now that all sounds well and good… but on the other hand, we have talked with other assistants who were told the same thing last season, and still ended up with the first contract they’d signed that they didn’t really want. So, who do we believe? After all, it’s only our future we’re talking about – nothing important.
Well, we’ve done what’s been suggested – and still have heard nothing, even though we know for a fact that longer contracts have become available… so we are no further forward and not feeling particularly optimistic about the 2011 season with the CCC.
The difficult decision for us now is whether to remain with the CCC or look to continue this lifestyle with sites not part of the Camping & Caravanning Club. We chose to work for the Friendly Club because we like their values. We still do, in terms of commitment to the Customer, but don’t feel that staff who are on the frontline providing the service that the Friendly Club is famous for account for much. We certainly don’t feel valued by the club in any way….. and that’s important for us – because you certainly don’t do this job for the money. We've had a further knockback from the club - after applying to be considered for an assessment day for potential Managers, we were unsuccessful. We'd be very interested in understanding what the score criteria was for the course, and also what the company would do about our training so that we could gain the credentials to attend the Managers course in the future - does a 13 week contract help us to get those credentials ? We don't believe so. We don't feel that the organisation is behaving as an equal opportunities employer. Our face simply doesn't fit.
Some people who work for the CCC believe that the grass is definitely not greener working for a privately owned organisation, not part of the Club. You do hear of horror stories, but then again, we also hear similar stories within the Club. In fact, our very good friends Karen & Ray work for a privately owned site, and had a fantastic 2010 season – and are going back there again for 2011. Surely, applying for private organisations gives you the chance to interview them, as much as them interviewing you. We certainly think that having the chance to look at the site, meet the managers/owners and understand their way of doing things puts you in a much better informed position to help you choose where you want to work.
Tough decisions ahead……. What will we do? Return to the home page and read our latest update for the most recent news.