50 years young!

“Don’t try and fix something that isn’t broken”

For those of you who haven’t already heard, we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary here at the Park! That’s 50 years of being owned and run by the Little family, having first been opened Peter Little in 1968 and now owned and managed by Peter’s son Fergus. 50 years as an award winning bespoke, family owned and run Holiday Park, one of just a handful in the East of England judged by the AA as a 5 Pennant Gold Award Holiday Park (the highest rating available, with the requirement of consistently high standards during their unannounced annual inspections). We are incredibly proud of everything we have achieved, including the staggeringly high number of return customers to our touring field, and our loyal and long standing Holiday Home owners, some of whom have been here almost as long as the Park has!

Being in my thirties, it’s hard to imagine having had a business that was started from scratch and watching it grow and continue to provide such excellent facilities and attention to detail. When I first visited Cakes & Ale in early 2016, there was a noticeable ambience, a feeling that is difficult to describe but I knew instantly that this was somewhere that I would be welcomed and I am pleased to say that it really does feel like a small community, a family almost! During the time I have been here, I have had numerous conversations with customers who try to describe the same feeling, the atmosphere here and although there are tangible things that contribute to the enjoyment of being here, there is always something that can’t be put in to words. I wondered how this made Peter & Fergus feel, did they know the secret ingredient to the perfect Holiday Park?

Peter, now in his 80’s, is still running his maiden Holiday Park, The Moon & Sixpence in Waldringfield and it is quite apparent that for him, it is a lifestyle not a career. Both of Peter’s sons have followed him into the industry, having spent their childhoods on the family Holiday Parks, but Peter is quite clear about the fact that they were not forced in any way. He is delighted that they have chosen to follow in his footsteps, with Fergus taking over ownership and management of Cakes & Ale in 2004 and James starting full time employment at Priory Park in 1986 and over a period of time taking ownership of the Park.

Peter first experienced the Holiday Park industry when he was in his late teens, spending time working with his ‘Uncle’ at Dovercourt Caravan Site; a site that he opened in the late 1940’s. During 3 years studying in the automotive manufacturing industry, Peter unfortunately suffered a reasonably severe motorcycle accident and during the 6 months it took for him to recuperate, stayed with his Aunt & Uncle at Dovercourt. This is when Peter developed an interest in the pioneering infant caravan industry. Peter declined the job that was offered to him at the end of his pupillage at Humber, opting to accept his Uncle’s offer of a position at Dovercourt, much to his parent’s horror! Peter says about this time in his life, “Over a seven year period at Dovercourt I learnt a great deal, earned good money in my spare time from setting up as a rental agent, a job no one else wanted, worked all hours, saved every penny I could and was totally involved in expanding from 150 caravans to building one of the biggest caravan sites in Europe with 1100 holiday caravans and 100 residential. All the holiday caravans were privately owned, most available for hire with a small number never hired but owned by really nice people as a retreat. The mass holiday market was what it is and I preferred the low key, owner occupier and was keen to build another park specifically for that market. I knew I was prepared to work round the clock for something long term where there was more to life than just earning big money from big volume bucket and chuck it. Very boring life for many; for me, to be mega busy, far too much to do,  rarely going out but to be in my element was an essential part of life. I was fascinated by landscaping, building something from nothing, ongoing gradual expansion and improvement leading to owning a small group of very high quality, low key, landscaped, owner occupier Parks. In 1965 I looked round some sites in the UK and the Aquitaine region of SW France. Eventually finding unspoilt, undeveloped, bypassed and hardly known Coastal Suffolk with its very dry, sunny climate, forests, wonderful estuaries, heath lands, untouched beaches and villages, yet less than 100 miles from 5 million people and a familiar region.” And the Moon & Sixpence was the result of Peter’s pure determination and dedication to the industry, however Peter is keen to point out that both staff and customers have always and continue to play a vital part in the atmosphere, ambience, success and future of the Parks. “I am continually aware, without them, there would be no Park!” A mere 2 years after opening the Moon & Sixpence, Peter became aware of some land that was up for sale; part of an old airfield and a seemingly ideal location for a Holiday Park nestled perfectly along the Suffolk Heritage Coastline with easy access to popular and picturesque holiday locations including Southwold, Thorpeness and Aldeburgh. This piece of land was to be transformed in to Cakes & Ale, Peter’s second Holiday Park.

Talking to Fergus about the success of his family business, I asked if he knew the secret. “Don’t try and fix something that isn’t broken” was his response. Fergus puts a lot of the parks achievements down to his father’s hard work and determination. “My wife and I have worked in the hospitality industry most of our working lives either in our own business, restaurants in London or for me from a young age off and on in the family business. For Amanda her first few years working were spent in the Greek Islands. Returning to the Park and having the opportunity to work and grow a place like Cakes & Ale is a real privilege and challenge. Every day brings something new and every day is different, coupled with great staff and customers, making the running of Cakes and Ale a pleasure. It’s difficult to put your finger on what makes Cakes and Ale so special.  After being back in the family business for 15 years we still couldn’t tell you what that X factor is. Is it the way the park is laid out and looked after, is it the welcome you receive from all the people here both staff and existing customers? We think the park just feels loved and this comes through to anyone coming onto the park. 50 years in the same ownership may also be part of that special feeling, continuity is always important in a business.  My Father’s foresight and eye for detail really gave us a great platform to start from, but also a high bar to aim for.” Fergus and Amanda are keen for anyone who hasn’t visited the Park before to do so, you really can’t imagine how special this place is without feeling it for yourself.

I also spoke to Fergus & Amanda’s eldest son, Nathan regarding his thoughts about following in his father’s footsteps but I think it’s a little early for him to have made any decisions at just 17 years old. Nathan does work at the park during school holidays and is as happy in Reception as he is out on site so if he did decide to share in the family business, I’m sure he’d do a fantastic job! Whilst Josh, their youngest son is renowned at the Park, a true entrepreneur with the same charm and determination as his father. So I’m sure that whatever happens in the future, the Park is in the safest Little hands.

Here’s to another 50 years!