Pontins: Former holiday park giant shrinks further

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Pontins Prestatyn site was closed “with immediate effect” on Thursday
By Jack Grey & Matthew Richards
BBC News

What was once a staple of British holidaying has now shrunk further to a shadow of its former self.

Pontin’s has announced both its Prestatyn and Camber Sands sites are closing with “immediate effect”.

It leaves the former holiday park giant, which at its height offered 30 destinations, with only four left.

Founder Fred Pontin ran the company from 1946 until its sale in 1978, it then passed through various owners before it was saved from administration by current owners Britannia Hotels in 2011.

Following speculation, the Home Office has clarified that the closed parks will not be used to house asylum seekers.

The Prestatyn site, in Denbighshire, opened in 1971 and soon became a popular with holidaymakers across the country.

The holiday parks were known for their distinctive “bluecoat” staff members

Many British stars, including Shane Richie and Bobby Davro, got their start in showbusiness as bluecoats, as its staff members were affectionately known.

Pauline Thompson, 69, from Immingham in Lincolnshire, worked as bluecoat at park from 1973 to 1976.

She said the memories she made there were “absolutely terrific” and it used to be one of the most popular and bustling holiday destinations around, with packed bingo halls and swimming pools.

Prestatyn’s Pontins was opened by Fred Pontin in 1971

“It had a 5,000 capacity and we used to be full all through the school holidays… It was terrific,” said Pauline.

“There was a lot for people to do, there was competitions all day, a swimming Pool – bingo, of course – there was shows, there was something to do every day.

“Everybody was friends, it was a very good atmosphere and I’m actually still in touch with people that I worked with.”

Pauline said she made friends for life while working at the park, and also a husband

Everyone got to know each other so well at the park that Pauline even met her future husband while working at the site in her early 20s.

“We’re divorced now, but I did meet [him] there, so I’ve got children who originated from there really,” she joked.

However, Pauline is still in touch with friends she made during her bluecoat summers in the 1970s, with a group even making the trip back to north Wales for a reunion last year.

“We went up to Pontins and asked if it’d be possible to have a look around and the woman didn’t let me, probably because it was in such a state,” she added.

“It is sad that we never got back to have a look before it closed.”

Just last year Pauline met up in north Wales with friends Graham, Sue and Colin, all of whom worked with her Pontins in the 70s

Lisa Lacking, from Winsford, Cheshire, first starting holidaying at Prestatyn Pontins with her family as a child in 1984 and then returned with her own children.

“We went about every year until till I was about 12, so then, when my kids were born, I took them every year… we’ve had two generations going,” said the 46-year-old.

“There was always loads to do when I was a kid, loads of competitions. There was that much going on you didn’t know what to do,” said Lisa.

“It’s just a very special place… I will miss it a lot.”

However, Lisa said she had noticed the quality of the park taking a dip over the decades.

“It has declined a lot. I mean there’s just not an awful lot to do. You have to go outside of the camp to find something to do.”

Lisa says the Prestatyn park is a “special place” that unfortunately declined over the years

Those who live near the site told the BBC they were not too surprised at the sudden closure.

“It’s been going downhill for years,” said Gill Bannister.

“I think it would probably be a relief because it is an embarrassment, the only time you get reviews of Pontins it was bad reviews.”

Lisa, who last visited the site earlier this year, said it declined massively from its heyday in the 1980s

Ann Boorman said: “I think it’s going to cause a lot of problems for Prestatyn.

“Obviously a lot of people from Prestatyn are employed here… so I think it will have a detrimental effect on the town itself.”

Lynne Macdonald, who worked at the site as a teenager, added: “It’s not a complete shock to be honest, because I think it’s gone completely run down from what it used to be so it isn’t a shock.”

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