It was 25 years ago this week that a new way of going on holiday opened to guests in Suffolk.
Center Parcs opened its second UK holiday village at Elveden on August 4, 1989, and in the years since then it has changed as it recognised that the British want a different package to the continental holidaymakers the Dutch company had been used to.
David Walls has seen the change first hand, having worked for Center Parcs since it opened it Sherwood centre in Nottinghamshire two years earlier. He is one of 18 of the 1,400 Elveden staff who have worked there since day one.
He came to Elveden in 1989 as the assistant pool manager and is now the on-village revenue manager. He has also seen how continental Center Parcs operate, having been trained at a French one and visited others with his family.
“It’s changed fundamentally,” he said. “When it was built, it was very much in the continental style, but it’s now much more activity based.
“On the continent, people wanted to just go away and sit around or wander for a few days. We in the UK want more activities.
“We’ve been abroad as a family to Center Parcs and you could walk into the leisure centre and get a badminton court whenever you wanted, but here in the old days people would queue up from half-past-seven because you could only book a day in advance.
“Now it’s all computerised and you can do it online before you come.”
So where it opened with a sports hall, golf course and pony rides, it now has a much wider range of activities, including climbing and abseiling as well as being the first Center Parcs to get a water cable ski, in 2008, and a Tropical Cyclone water ride, in 2012.
David says Center Parcs Elveden also gets more foreign visitors now and more extended families coming as a group.
“With families living spread out over the country, we have a lot of families coming to Center Parcs now to be together,” he said.
Center Parcs estimates more than 10 million guests have stayed at Elveden since 1989, hitting four million golf balls, riding the bikes 22 million miles and knocking down 185 million skittles in the bowling lanes.
They have also munched their way through two million pancakes in The Pancake House.
All that came to a halt in 2002 when a fire wrecked the main pool complex at the village. It took 14 months and £60 million to rebuild it.
Yet with all these people, the ecology of the site has improved.
Until Center Parcs was built, the land was covered in a 400 acre non-native commercial pine forest,but by adding a lake and more native trees, while opening up the site, a wider range od plant and animal life has been encourages.
It has also allowed some of the rare Breckland plants that where there before the forest was planted to return, including basil thyme which brings with it an extremely rare moth.
Peter Larcombe, senior conservation ranger, said: “The variety of birds is quite diverse because we are now not just a conifer plantation. We have got a mix of bushes and trees. The more you have, the more birds will come.”
Among the birds that regularly visit the site are redpolls, crossbills, various warblers, chiffchaffs, kingfishers, herons and a variety of ducks.
The village’s wildlife rangers can take visitors on ‘safari’ to spot the flora and fauna, including taking people to a secluded area which is one of the few places where you can see grass snakes and adders together, but some wildlife, like squirrels and muntjac deer, know guests are a source of food and come calling on them.
People have also been coming to the site for much longer than 25 years. A British Museum and Time Team dig there discovered evidence of human activity dating back 400,000 years.
General manager James Barrett said: “We are proud to have offered excellent service over the past 25 years and at this exciting milestone it is a real joy to be part of the Elveden Forest team.”