Marton Mere and Cala Gran Haven holiday parks prepare for busy summer season as lockdown eases
Haven holidays have been the cornerstone of British staycations for over 50 years - and the Fylde coast's parks are getting ready to welcome back families and provide them with memories that last a lifetime.
Every year, tens of thousands of tourists flock to the Fylde coast to enjoy a summer staycation, with families traversing the length and breadth of the country to visit Haven holiday sites.
The coast is home to two Havens - Marton Mere in Mythop Road, Blackpool, and Cala Gran in Fleetwood Road, Fleetwood.
The pandemic hit the holiday industry hard, with sites forced to close and employees put on furlough.
Haven seasons run between March and October - and its UK sites were only able to open for a week in March 2020 before the pandemic closed them down.
They were able to reopen in June, but on limited means - with many sites only being able to offer a holiday with accommodation only, without the activities or entertainment beloved by families.
The company suffered no job losses, and was given recognition for its prompt and efficient refunds when thousands of holiday makers were forced to cancel their bookings during lockdown.
Haven also looked after its valued team members and accommodation owners, by topping up their furlough pay to 100 per cent for some months and waiving site fees for owners.
Marton Mere and Cala Gran employ around 75 and 50 permanent staff respectively, additional seasonal employees are recruited throughout the year and over 700 private owners visit the Blackpool site.
But despite the absence of the usual hustle and bustle while parks remained empty - except for a small team of admin staff at each during the lockdown - it didn't dampen the spirits of the teams.
From Monday, indoor entertainment and dining can resume, the indoor pools can reopen, and families are expected to swarm back to the receptions to grab the keys to their caravans in an excited rush.
Andrea Massey, general manager at Cala Gran, has been with the company for three years and is beginning her second season in Fleetwood.
She said the park had come back to life since self-catering accommodation was given the green light back in April - but there is nothing quite like the bright lights of indoor entertainment and seeing families come together over a meal.
"For the first couple of weeks since reopening we were blessed with good weather, which made it much easier for our outdoor activities and entertainment to continue," Andrea said.
"There have been plenty of things going on for the children, and it's been so lovely to see them all running around the park after being here working while it was closed.
"We're fortunate enough to have a big entertainment lounge here, so now that we can open up again from Monday it can all be set up to allow for social distancing and the children can enjoy it with their families.
"I'm so proud of my team and how they've been able to deliver the changes required of them. It's about being able to delight the guests.
"It will feel a bit different for a while with all the social distancing measures and wearing masks indoors, but we can't wait to welcome people back and hopefully return back to normal, whatever that may be going forward."
Marton Mere's general manager Keith Robson recently celebrated 20 years with Haven, and has been welcoming families and accommodation owners to the resort site for seven years.
Keith has been passionately campaigning for the resort's tourism industry recovery post-lockdown alongside Blackpool Council and other resort businesses, and said he was looking forward to seeing the park lively with the sound of happy families again.
He said: "We have over 700 owners here, and they've not been able to visit during lockdown so it's been an awful time for them as well as visitors really.
"They're more than visitors, they're like friends to us, so we have lots of special things planned for them.
"It's absolutely fantastic that we're going to be opening up indoors again, and we can get back to doing our usual jobs. We've put in loads of safety measures to keep everybody safe and secure.
"We've got an army of team members constantly walking around the park, making sure everything's clean and everyone has their own set of safety procedures.
"That's the expectation the people who stay with us have, and they deserve to be given a brilliant time. Having our team return really reminded us of our purpose- to help them create memories that will last a lifetime.
"Visiting us is an opportunity for you and your family to have some wonderful times together, and undergo some new experiences. We have such a beautiful setting here, and you can jump on a bus to get into town and experience everything Blackpool has to offer too.
"Opening up in April has been wonderful, but we can't wait to be able to offer everything to guests from Monday. We're really excited by that prospect."
One of the first things that may come to mind when you think of Haven and the classic British caravan holiday is the entertainment value - particularly for young children.
Walk around Marton Mere or Cala Gran and you could bump into Rory the Tiger or the naughty DJ Ned - characters who will be forever emblazoned in your mind when you hear their catchy songs in the entertainment lounges while cradling an overtired - but entranced - child.
But for the people behind the characters and evening performances, the pandemic was a gut-wrenching and unsettling time.
All over the country, entertainers were out of work when their venues closed with nowhere to go - but Haven's team members were given a lifeline when they learned they could return to the parks after spending lockdown on furlough.
Rob Lock, entertainment manager at Marton Mere, heads up a team of seven entertainers and oversees a number of visiting acts at the park.
He has been eagerly awaiting the day he and his team can get back under the bright lights of the stage, and is excited to begin the new summer season.
Rob said: "I'm really excited to get back to it, it's one of those things as an entertainer when you're born to be on the stage and suddenly you can't be, it was very hard.
"We've all had so much extra training around Covid safety and all the entertainers practice social distancing.
"Since we reopened in April we've been able to keep the kids happy with outdoor performances, we've had mascots walking around which has been great for them.
"We were limited with what we could do, but it's still been really nice to be able to do something for them.
"Being able to bring back live indoor entertainment and singers has really made me appreciate how much I've missed it. I hadn't realised, but now I'm just so excited."
Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here.