THE concept of a holiday destination in the middle of a forest may have seemed like an odd idea once over.
Seasides have been the obvious choice for holiday destinations for centuries, but that all changed in 1987 when the first British Center Parcs location opened for business.
Despite its origins rooted in Holland, it has become an incredible British success story with more than 1.6 million visitors annually to its four locations, with a fifth set to open in Bedfordshire in 2014.
But our love affair with the woodland short-break destination began 25 years ago this month, in Sherwood Forest.
It was a hugely ambitious project from the start, with more than 600 villas built ready for the grand opening, with approximately 30 activities organised to keep its guests entertained, which amounted to 2,500 at any one time.
Its growing popularity since the 1980s can be measured in numbers- there are now more than 900 villas, catering to 4,000 guests who have now over 200 activities to choose from. Unlike the seaside resorts, it’s not affected by the seasons either, with an incredible 97 per cent of the park booked all-year round.
Martin Dalby, chief executive officer, said: “It’s quite amazing when you look back over 25 years of Center Parcs in the UK. In 1987, no-one knew what Center Parcs was. Now, Center Parcs has a big reputation; we are the leading short break holiday provider in the UK welcoming more than 1.6 million people to our four Villages each year.
“There is something very special about Center Parcs - it provides a winning combination of excellent customer service which we pride ourselves on, a focus on family, a wide variety of activities to choose from as well as restaurants and retail outlets, unique accommodation and a genuine passion for protecting and enhancing the natural habitats of the animals and plants within each of our forests.
“We caught the attention of the holiday industry on our inception due to our commitment to quality - a commitment which has been built on over the years, to make Center Parcs the popular holiday destination that it is today.”
With its reputation growing in tandem with the developments over the years, there are a handful of employees who have witnessed it all from the beginning.
General manager Karen Henderson (58) is the longest-serving member, starting months before it even opened.
“It’s just a fantastic place to work,” she says, not short of superlatives.
“This was always my field of work but I never thought for one minute I would be here 25 years later.
“I can’t see ever wanting to do anything else because I love it so much.
“We are here to give our guests a good experience, and that’s what we do.
“My first memory is being in the jungle river and it being about -14 outside! Swimming in a hot pool outside was not something I’d done before!
“The forest has matured in that time and the amount of investment has been incredible. It’s is a village and we with everything like any other village.
We have a great team of people to work with so I can’t see ever wanting to do anything else because I love it so much.
Mandy Morris (56) from Rainworth, began two months after the parked opened. She helped out behind the bar, worked silver service dining and supervised at the sports centre before being offered a job on Guest Services in 1989, where she has remained to this day.
“My 25 years have been memorable, there’s something different every day. Seeing a whole village change so much over 25 years has been amazing.
“When I first started I did not take a pension out because I thought I was not going to stay!
“My husband used to say to me that if you cut me in half it would say ‘Center Parcs’!
“It has been more of my life than my home life! It’s difficult to explain, but if you work here, you want to care about everything.
“I never thought I would get a job here, but I do love it.”
Mansfield Woodhouse’s Nicola Cooke (47) began in the November of 1987, working in catering including the park’s Crispin’s burger bar, the pancake house and Chez Pierre French cafe.
“It’s very varied, Center Parcs is always evolving and changing. In all the time I’ve been here I’ve moved about. The place has got so much bigger, it is just like a village.
“It’s been ideal that everything I have wanted to do has been here, so I’ve not wanted to move.
“I do enjoy it here, you just have to look at it to see that it’s a lovely place to be. The season are all different and it’s beautiful and so different.
“People come here to enjoy a holiday so it’s an advantage straight away. I don’t see any reason why I would not want to stay here until I retire!
“It started with couples and families now we get all sort of groups- it’s moved with the times.
“It’s very varied, Center Parcs is always evolving and changing.”
To mark the major milestone, Chad has teamed up with Center Parcs to offer one lucky family a mid-week or weekend break at the venue.
The offer is for a luxury three-bedroom Woodland Lodge in Sherwood Forest.
To enter, simply answer the question below and either email your answer to email@example.com or send it to Center Parcs Competition, Nick Frame, Mansfield Chad, 121 Newgate Lane, Mansfield, NG18 2PA.
The closing date for entries is Wednesday, 1st August.
What anniversary has Center Parcs in Sherwood Forest celebrated this month?
Terms and conditions apply. The winner of the prize would The break should be taken before 3rd July 2013 (excluding school and bank holidays) and is obviously subject to availability. Activities and extras are not included in this prize. You should also note that Center Parcs’ normal terms and conditions of booking apply and that the prize is as stated and is not negotiable or transferable, nor can any cash alternative be offered.