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Center Parcs UK and Ireland
Formerly
Center Parcs UK
Private limited company
Industry Hospitality and Leisure
Founded 1987 (first UK village)
2001 (separation from Center Parcs in continental Europe)
Headquarters New Ollerton, ,
Number of locations
6 villages
Area served
United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland
Key people
Martin Dalby (CEO)
Services
  • Short breaks
  • Family holidays
  • Leisure activities
Parent Brookfield Properties

Center Parcs UK and Ireland locations

Center Parcs UK and Ireland (formerly Center Parcs UK) is a short-break holiday company that operates six holiday villages in the United Kingdom and Ireland, with each covering about 400 acres (1.6 km2) of woodland. The company's first village opened at Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, in 1987 and its sixth, at Longford Forest, Ireland, opened in 2019.

A similar enterprise operates in continental Europe, also under the name Center Parcs; however, the two companies have been separately owned since 2001. Center Parcs UK marked its 30th anniversary in 2017.

History

As a division

See also: Center Parcs Europe

In 1968, Dutch entrepreneur Piet Derksen purchased woodland near Reuver so that staff and customers of his 17 store sporting goods chain could relax in small tents. The park, De Lommerbergen, was successful and tents were quickly replaced by bungalows.

In July 1987, Center Parcs opened its first UK resort at Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire. At that time, "Center Parcs" (under that name, with no regional qualifier) was a single global company owning both UK and continental European resorts. In 1989 it opened its second village in the UK at Elveden Forest. Center Parcs (including the Sherwood Forest and Elveden Forest villages) was bought in 1989 by (the now defunct) Scottish & Newcastle.

Spun off

During a move in 2001 to concentrate on their core brewing business, Scottish and Newcastle sold the UK side of Center Parcs to venture capitalists Deutsche Bank Capital Partners, and it became a separate company known then as Center Parcs UK. The remainder of Center Parcs continued to operate, becoming known as Center Parcs Europe. The two companies have since operated under very similar branding, but are now owned and operated by two distinct companies. (In 2003 S&N sold Center Parcs Europe to a joint venture of France-based Pierre & Vacances (P&V), who already owned the competing Gran Dorado Resorts, and German investment group DBCP, hence completing the divesting of Center Parcs from the restructured S&N.)

In December 2003, Mid Ocean agreed to sell the UK resorts to Arbor Ltd for £285 million, a special vehicle set up to float Center Parcs UK on London Stock Exchange's Alternative Investment Market, and in 2005 it moved to the main stock market listing. In May 2006 Center Parcs UK Group PLC was sold to The Blackstone Group for a reported £1.1 billion, and subsequently re-registered as a private company. Under a separate deal at the same time, Blackstone also bought the freehold of the European sites from P&V, which allowed them to rebrand all of the European sites as Center Parcs.

In June 2015, it was announced that Blackstone had agreed to sell the company to Canadian-based Brookfield Properties Corporation for £2.4bn. At the time Center Parcs UK employed around 7,500 people and received around 2 million guests in 2015.

Locations

SubtropicalSwimmingParadise
Center Parcs is widely known for its Subtropical Swimming Paradise

Center Parcs has short-break holiday villages in five locations in the UK, with a sixth in Ireland which opened in 2019. Each village covers around 400 acres (1.6 km2) of woodland, with a standard set of facilities, and have around 97% occupancy annually.

No personal cars are allowed into the villages except on arrival and departure days.

Country Resort Nearest city, town or village County Year opened Notes
 United Kingdom Center Parcs Sherwood Forest Mansfield and Nottingham (North) Nottinghamshire 1987 First site opened outside continental Europe
Center Parcs Elveden Forest Elveden, Thetford and Brandon Suffolk 1989 Closed between 2002 and 2003 following a major fire which destroyed the plaza and sports centre
Center Parcs Longleat Forest Warminster Wiltshire 1994 The Only site to date to have tram train coaches pulled by Land Rover Defenders and succeeding vehicles
Center Parcs Whinfell Forest Penrith Cumbria 1997 (added to portfolio in 2001) Previously owned by The Rank Organisation and called Oasis Lakeland Holiday Village
Center Parcs Woburn Forest Bedford and Luton Bedfordshire 2014 The site started construction in 2009 to be Northeast from Longleat, West from Elveden and South from Sherwood.
 Ireland Center Parcs Longford Forest Ballymahon County Longford 2019 First site opened (as a separate company) outside of the UK

Sherwood Forest

Center Parcs Sherwood Boating Lake
The boating lake at Sherwood Forest with The Pancake House on the right.

The first Center Parcs holiday village in the United Kingdom was opened in July 1987. It is located in 400 acres (1.6 km2) of woodland at Sherwood Forest, near Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire. The site was formerly owned by the Forestry Commission, and was chosen as it was "pretty central [in the UK], it had the right maturity of trees and was in an area affected by the demise of the coal industry".

By 2012 it was receiving around 400,000 visitors annually, mostly from outside of Nottinghamshire. It can have around 4,000 visitors at any one time. The occupancy rate was over 90% in the first 30 years of operation.

A£3 million refurbishment of the Aqua Sana spa finished in April 2017, and a £15 million refurbishment of the Subtropical Swimming Paradise swimming facilities at the village started in September 2017. The village employs 1,500 people, of which around 700 are housekeepers.

The site originally had 609 lodges, which increased to 900 by the end of 2017. It has a mixture of Woodland Lodges, New Woodland Lodges, Executive Duplex Lodges, Penthouse Duplex Lodge, Executive Apartment, Executive Lodge, New Executive Lodge, and Treehouses, with between one and four bedrooms in each. Three luxury Treehouses were opened in 2010, each with four bedrooms. A six-bedroom Woodland Lodge was opened in 2017, along with 27 other woodland lodges.

The activity areas include:

  • Village Square, including:
    • Subtropical Swimming Paradise indoor water park. Includes spa pools, wave pools, rides, flumes, and slides. Opened in 1987, extended in 1990, and a raft ride was added in 2002. Refurbishment started in September 2017, and will add toddler pools, raft rides, and a children's adventure cove.
    • Other activities: Falconry, Leisure Bowl, Pottery Painting Studio.
    • Shops: Parc Market supermarket (refurbished in 2017), Aquatique, JustKids, The Store Room, Treats.
    • Food: Bella Italia, Café Rouge, Dexter's Kitchen, Dining In, Huck's American Bar and Grill, Rajinda Pradesh, Starbucks, The Canopy Café.
    • Other facilities: Medical centre. The Venue, a 600-person conference centre.
  • Jardin des Sports. Gym, courts Activity Den, Astro Turf, bowling green. Also Sports Café and Starbucks, and Refresh and Sportique shops.
  • The Country Club. Forrester's Inn, Nature Centre.
  • The Beach and The Boathouse. Adventure golf, The Pancake House. Sandy beach. The Boathouse hires out boats for use on the lake. Closed in winter months.
  • Aqua Sana Spa. Six zones containing 25 experiences including a Treetop Sauna 10 metres (33 ft) from the ground, as well as an ice cave, outdoor hot tubs, and a volcanic steam room. Opened in April 2017 having cost £3 million to refurbish.
  • Action Challenge. Abseiling, climbing walls and high-rope course.
  • Outdoor Activity Centre. quad biking, archery, paintball, laser combat.
  • Cycle Centre. Hires out bicycles. Mobility scooters, wheelchairs, cycle trailers, D-locks and helmets also available. The village originally had 500 cycles, which increased to 3,000 by 2017.

There is a watersports lake near the Village Square, although only craft hired from the Boathouse may be used upon it.

Elveden Forest

Elveden Forest Village Square
Elveden Forest Village Square South

Two years later, in 1989, a second village was added, at Elveden Forest. It makes up a small area of Thetford Forest west of the B1106 road and near the town of Brandon in Suffolk, England. It is named after the nearby village of Elveden.

Just before 10am on 4 April 2002 a major fire destroyed the central Plaza and sports centre of Elveden Forest. One member of staff was treated for smoke inhalation, but there were no serious injuries. The fire also destroyed seven bars and restaurants, a disco, some gift shops, a sports centre and a bowling alley. The damage to the forest was minimal. A subsequent inquiry found that the blaze was caused by contractors carrying out repair work on the roof of a catering block adjacent to the Plaza.

Elveden Forest re-opened in July 2003 after a major re-design, less susceptible to the potential spread of fire. The most dramatic difference was to the village square which was rebuilt with an open-air Mediterranean theme. The sub-tropical swimming paradise re-opened having survived the blaze; the sauna complex was changed to a Balinese theme, and a new Sports Plaza was opened. Whilst it was closed, the rest of the village was also improved including the refurbishment of the country club and the addition of a spa and new three- and four-bedroom lodges.

Elveden Village Square
Elveden Forest Village Square North

Elveden Forest has a total of 866 units of accommodation which range from 'Woodland' grade to exclusive villas and include rooms at the Lakeview Hotel. These villas and rooms can accommodate up to 4,216 guests. Villas are located in six different areas with each area mostly including every type of accommodation, but the Ash and Oak areas are predominantly made up of executive and exclusive villas. Ash was extended in 2007 to include new four-bedroom two-storey villas.

Longleat Forest

Center Parcs - geograph.org.uk - 145876
Main entrance to the Center Parcs resort in Longleat Forest

The third village opened in 1994. It makes up a large area of Longleat Forest in the county of Wiltshire, England, and is co-located on the site of Longleat Safari Park nearby, approximately five miles (8 km) east of Frome and a few miles west of Warminster, Wiltshire. This village has fewer lodges than Elveden Forest and Sherwood Forest due to the steep topography of the site.

Whinfell Forest

Lowtheroasispath
Footpath along outer edge of Whinfell Forest boundary fence
Whinfell Forest Commemorative Plaque
Recording the 1998 visit of Elizabeth II to the Oasis Lakeland Forest Village

In 1997, The Rank Organisation had opened a similar style holiday village in Whinfell Forest near Penrith, Cumbria, under the name Oasis Lakeland Holiday Village, which featured commercial restaurants and businesses such as Burger King and a Hard Rock Cafe. Bought by Center Parcs UK in 2001, who removed the commercial ventures, the site was rebranded as Center Parcs Oasis Whinfell Forest, before 'Oasis' was dropped from the name in 2006. The set up at Whinfell is slightly different in that the style of accommodation is more akin to two-storey Scandinavian-style lodges, the main centre of the village is under cover, and there is no country club like at Longleat Forest, Elveden Forest and Sherwood Forest. Center Parcs have updated many Whinfell Forest lodges, and added new lodges of an identical style at their other UK villages.

Whinfell Forest is the largest of Center Parcs' five UK holiday villages, with accommodation for 4,668 people in 861 units.

Woburn Forest

Center Parcs Woburn Forest 2019 01
Woburn Forest Plaza Dome

Center Parcs Woburn Forest (formerly Center Parcs Warren Wood) is located on the outskirts of Flitwick and Ampthill, 7–8 miles (11–13 km) from the village of Woburn in Bedfordshire in the UK. It commenced operation in July 2014.

The chief executive, Martin Dalby, said that the company might add a fifth village. In December 2004, Center Parcs UK announced that it had identified a location named Warren Wood near Flitwick at Woburn, Bedfordshire. Despite the land being designated as greenbelt, the company sought planning permission and had already completed the signing of a lease on the land from its owner, the Duke of Bedford. The project was expected to cost approximately £160 million, including the construction of accommodation, indoor and outdoor facilities, the sub-tropical swimming complex, restaurants and a spa, but this has since risen to £230m. It was anticipated that, given planning permission, the project would take between three and four years to complete.

In July 2006, Bedfordshire District Council turned down Center Parcs' application for planning approval on the grounds that the project breached policy safeguarding Metropolitan Green Belt land, leading the company to lodge an appeal against the decision later that year. The inspector hearing the appeal recommended that the Council's decision be upheld. In September 2007 the council's decision was overturned by the government as Secretary of State Hazel Blears overruled the inspector's advice. She acknowledged that the scheme breached both local and national policies on safeguarding Green Belt, but argued that "in this particular case, the economic and employment benefits of the proposal, when taken together with the ecological and biodiversity benefits... constitute very special circumstances and are sufficient to clearly outweigh the harm to Green Belt". and outline planning permission for the site was granted. In November 2010 Center Parcs gained full approval for the plans of the village including designs of facilities, restaurants, shops and accommodation and in 2012 secured £250 million of investment to build the new resort, to be known as Woburn Forest.

Before Center Parcs could start construction, there were a number of planning conditions that had to be satisfied, most notably the improvement of local road junctions to allow smooth access to the Village. They also had to submit a local employment strategy, local purchasing policy and a forest and ecology management plan. This represents final approval of the detailed designs of buildings and landscape as well as local sourcing, employment strategies and green travel plan. The next stage of the project was the construction of a new roundabout, as well as the diversion of the public rights of way that cross the site.

The site is slightly smaller than its other four sites at 375 acres (1.52 km2). It includes:

  • 625 lodges, possible future expansion on an additional 75 lodges
  • a 75 bedroom hotel
  • six spa suites
  • a 17,000 square metres (180,000 sq ft) lake in the middle of the village
  • Aqua Sana & 6 bedroom spa accommodation
  • two main centres with restaurants, retail outlets and subtropical swimming area
  • 1400 space car park
  • activity areas
  • seven miles of road ways
  • 1,800 metres (5,900 ft) of public rights of way and bridleways have been diverted
  • two nearby junctions are being turned into roundabouts: Millbrook, which was completed in 2011 and Steppingley, which was completed in 2013.

It was built by Bowmer + Kirkland and was completed in spring 2014.

Longford Forest

In a 2008 interview, Martin Dalby, the chief executive of Center Parcs UK, stated that Woburn would be the last village the company constructed in the UK and that if a sixth village was considered it would probably be located in Ireland. In September 2015, Center Parcs UK announced its intention to build a new site in County Longford, Ireland. Named Longford Forest, it opened in July 2019.

Facilities

Accommodation

Each village has a number of different lodge types that range from one- to four-bedroom accommodation for up to 8 people, with Sherwood Forest recently opening 6-bedroom lodges for 12 people. Some larger lodges include their own games room and hot tub. Lodges are usually in small clusters and give a good degree of privacy, whilst allowing for self-catering and communal BBQs. Elveden Forest has no one-bed lodges, but instead includes the Lakeside View Hotel.

All beds at the villages were replaced in 2008. In 2011, Center Parcs began refurbishing all of its lodges. The beds were all replaced and new interiors introduced to help brighten up interiors. A new style 'Woodland Lodge' replaced the previous basic lodges to become the entry-level standard accommodation. Executive lodges were also upgraded.

Amenities

Guests are able to book and participate in a wide range of activities at the various villages.

  • Arrivals lodge. Guests are directed here for check-in from 10 am on their arrival day.
  • Security lodge. Each village has a security lodge staffed 24 hours a day. Security staff help with directing traffic to the arrivals lodge, identifying all visitors to the village, staffing barriers, and assisting arrivals lodge staff on changeover days. They also staff the emergency phone number given to guests to call in the event of an emergency.
  • Subtropical Swimming Paradise. The village swimming complex is known as the Subtropical Swimming Paradise and contains a wave pool, slides and chutes, an outdoor slide referred to as the Wild Water Rapids, outdoor pools, a 'lazy river', flumes, a children's pool and food outlets. Rides vary between villages.
  • Village Square/Plaza. Main hub of restaurants and shops as well as other facilities such as Guest Services and the medical centre.
  • Sports Plaza/Jardin Des Sports. Contains most of the indoor sports facilities such as squash courts, badminton courts, pool and snooker tables, gymnasium, table tennis tables, golf simulators, indoor wall-climbing and an aerobics studio. There is also a themed restaurant, a sportswear shop and a newsagent.
  • Boathouse. For all water-based activities on the lake including canoeing, fishing, pedalos, windsurfing mini captains and raft-building.
  • Aqua Sana. The village spa includes various themed rooms as well as a central pool with hot tubs.
  • Activity Den. The village crèche.
  • Leisure Bowl and House of Games. A ten-pin bowling alley and coin-operated arcade games.
  • Country Club. Contains additional restaurant and leisure facilities at some villages.
  • Shops/Retail. Includes supermarket "ParcMarket", newsagents "Refresh" and "ParcMarket Express", toy shop "Just Kids", gift shop "The Store Room", sweet shop "Treats", clothing and shoes shop "Spirit", sunglasses shop "Time for Shade", sports and fashion shop "Sportique", swimwear equipment shop "Aquatique", and the "Aqua Sana Spa Boutique". Some shops are owned by Center Parcs, whilst the rest are operated by the Nuance Group. JustKids and The Store Room replaced "Funtastic" and "Natural Elements" respectively in 2012.. Starbucks cafés were introduced to all villages in 2008.

Food and drink

Six food and drink options are provided by external chains and operated under concession, but the majority are internal brands.

External chains

  • Café Rouge. French cuisine. Located at all Center Parcs UK villages.
  • Bella Italia. Italian food. Location varies by village.
  • Las Iguanas. Brazilian, Mexican & Latin American food & cocktails. Located at Woburn Forest and Longleat Forest.
  • Strada. Italian restaurant. Available at Woburn Forest.
  • Starbucks. Hot and cold drinks and snacks. Located at all Center Parcs UK villages.
  • Leon. Fast food and Mediterranean cooking. Available at Woburn Forest.

Internal brands

  • Huck's American Bar and Grill. American and Mexican meals. Located at all Center Parcs villages.
  • Rajinda Pradesh. Contemporary Eastern-inspired restaurant. Located at all Center Parcs villages.
  • Sports Café. A range of options for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. Live sports shown, in the style of a British pub. Located at all Center Parcs villages.
  • The Pancake House. Pancakes, Belgian-style waffles, and omelettes. Located at all Center Parcs villages.
  • Foresters' Inn. Gastropub-style restaurant. Location varies per village.
  • The Lakeside Inn. Contemporary pub offering local produce, carvery, and real ales. Available at Whinfell Forest.
  • Dining In. Takeaway option, delivered to customer accommodation. Available at all Center Parcs villages.
  • Dexters Kitchen. Burgers, salads, coffee, ice creams, and Millie's cookies. Location varies by village.
  • Canopy Café. Situated in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. Location varies by village.
  • Leisure Bowl. Bar adjoining a bowling alley. Available at all Center Parcs villages.
  • Monty's. Poolside restaurant serving meals and snacks, including hot dogs, nachos, pizza, doughnuts, churros, slurp milkshakes and ice-creams. Available at Woburn Forest.
  • Vitalé Café Bar. Situated within the Aqua Sana Spa, selection of drinks, salads, tapas, and pasta dishes. Available at all Center Parcs villages.
  • ParcMarket. Small supermarket which incorporates a bakery. Available at all Center Parcs villages.
  • The Coffee House. Coffee and light meals. Available at Longford Forest.
  • Cara's Kitchen and Bar. Exclusively at Longford Forest in Ireland, an all-day dining and family-friendly option.

Awards

  • Good Spa Guide Awards - Best Destination Spa. November 2019
  • Better Society Awards - Best Scheme to Encourage Staff Fundraising. May 2019
  • Menu Innovation and Development Awards (MIDAS) - Best Menu in Leisure & Travel. March 2019
  • Good Spa Guide Awards - Best Spa in the East Midlands and East. November 2018
  • Tommy's Awards - Best Family Friendly UK Holiday Provider. April 2018
  • Good Spa Guide Awards - Best for Design. November 2017
  • MadeForMums Awards 2017 - Gold Award for Family Holiday. April 2017
  • Tommy's Awards - Best Family Friendly UK Holiday Provider. April 2017
  • Tommy's Awards - Best UK holiday provider. March 2016
  • Professional Beauty Awards - Residential Spa of the Year: 11 Rooms or More. March 2016
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