From a derelict field to a five-star success story: Ribby Hall Village celebrates 25 years
In 1994, when the UK was still recovering from a deep recession, the Harrison family purchased a partly developed and derelict ‘caravan site’ in Wrea Green in Lancashire. With just a handful of neglected caravans and a couple of sorry-looking cowsheds, the 100-acre site had nothing to offer but potential.
Twenty-five years later and that forlorn-looking site has reached its potential. Still owned by the Harrison family, Ribby Hall Village has become one of the country’s most successful holiday villages, attracting over a million visitors a year and winning countless awards.
The Village is also highly valued by local families, individuals and the business community, who make use of its Health Club, leisure activities, SPA Hotel, restaurants, Nursery and Pre-School, and conference facilities. It is a much sought-after wedding venue and hosts hundreds of events each year in its banqueting suites.
As he celebrates the company’s 25-year anniversary and makes yet more plans for the future, Chief Executive Paul Harrison takes some time to recall that very first visit.
“My father was 72 at the time but he clearly wanted one more business challenge,” he says. “So, despite the numerous unknowns, concerns and raised eyebrows, he bought it within days!”
Planning permission was sought immediately to build 175 cottages, 350 holiday homes, a hotel, sports facility, shop and restaurant. Once approved, construction began July 1994 and continued for ten years. Paul joined his father in the business in 1995 and together they set about turning their dream into a reality.
“We had a vision to develop an independent holiday village with an unrivalled choice of luxury, self-catering accommodation, and a variety of leisure and dining facilities,” says Paul.
And that is exactly what they did. The original sports centre was opened in 1995. The first cottages were opened in 1997, with many more to follow, and The Village’s original hotel, The Manor House, opened in 2001. The sports centre, restaurant and nine-hole golf course were added, and The Village attracted a huge following of holiday guests and visitors from the local area.
Although the main construction as completed by 2004, the desire to keep improving never diminished. The luxury pine lodges were added in 2005, an alternative to the existing cottage accommodation, and globally-recognised brand Starbucks opened in 2009 to complement the many and varied food and drink outlets already there. In 2011, The SPA Hotel opened its doors, a £7 million pound investment, once again bucking the post-recession trend and immediately bringing new clienteles from both the local area and indeed further afield within Lancashire.
Ribby Hall Village was awarded 5-star status as a holiday destination by Visit England in 2009 and has retained its top-tier rating ever since. Its SPA Hotel and Health Club have also won numerous industry and consumer awards.
Creating a multi award-winning business, and sustaining its on-going success for 25 years, is no mean feat. Open 365 days a year, Ribby Hall Village now employs almost 600 people, mostly from the local area and, for Paul Harrison, it is his role as an employer that he takes most seriously.
“My background is in the construction industry, so the actual building of The Village was quite straightforward,” he says. “But becoming such a significant employer is a huge responsibility and I had to learn very quickly.
“I wanted Ribby to be a place where people enjoy coming to work and I hope the fact that most of my senior managers have worked here for over 20 years reflects this. We are all committed to creating an ideal working environment because we believe that if people are happy in their work, it will really show and will have a very positive impact on the business.”
All year round, holiday guests flock to Ribby Hall Village to escape, unwind and enjoy the many indoor and outdoor activities on offer. The impressive Health Club, with its gym, fantastic family pool, sports hall, fitness studios and 25m adult only pool, also has a huge roll call of members from the local area. The restaurants, nine-hole golf course, Wild Discovery animal centre and interactive zoo, luxurious SPA facilities are in all demand from locals as well as holiday guests.
Paul Harrison and his team are not ready to stand still just yet. Undeterred by the uncertain climate in these Brexit-dominated times, they have ambitious plans to develop The Village further and create even more choices for visitors. Unable to be more specific at this stage, Paul suggests an announcement is likely to be made later on this Spring.
“We’ve made some of our most significant business decisions in times of recession and looking back these decisions have been successful. Whilst this has not made us complacent, it has instilled a confidence in us that, if we plan well and take all factors into consideration, we can achieve what we expect to achieve. We set clear objectives and work very hard until we achieve them.”
Sadly, Paul’s father, Bill, passed away in August 1999, before witnessing the total transformation of that muddy field he viewed in 1994. “He’d be surprised to see how far we have come, but I like to think he’d be delighted at how we’ve surpassed his original vision,” says Paul.
“I’m sure he would approve of the high standards we set throughout The Village but, mostly, I think he would be astonished that we employ almost 600 people and would be very proud of the positive impact we have had on the local community.”