Case Study: Working on Parks in France

This article on working on parks in France was written by a couple who took early retirement and went off to work in France and Croatia for Canvas Holidays. Canvas operate on over 100 parks in Europe and take on several hundred staff each year to look after their customers.

Deciding there was more to life than commuting and office politics, we discussed and agreed to take early retirement. With children off our hands and mortgage paid off it was time to enjoy some freedom and quality of life.

A distant memory still existed of being a Canvas customer and remembering a “mature” courier running the site. We said then “we will do that sometime”. Being of average fitness and health we felt capable and so we applied to a few of the major names. By the time the others had got their paperwork together and sent out, we had applied, been interviewed and offered the position by Canvas.

Our first posting was to be in Pont d’Arc, France. 28 tents situated on the banks of the river. A small family owned site. But first we had to undertake training. This takes place on a large campsite outside Paris (and has ever since). This already gave a sense of travel, no grotty backroom classroom in an office in some UK city. All accommodation, food etc was provided for the week. I had a fair amount of experience of corporate training methods and it must be said this was at least as good as the best I had experienced over 20 years of “proper work” (as we continue to call it).

The training was given by enthusiastic staff from Head Office in Dunfermline to a room full of raw recruits of every shape, age and skill level. We had all come for the same purpose and a relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere prevailed throughout the week.

By the time we had finished we all had new skills ranging from cleaning windows, Health and Safety, paperwork, finance through to being able to erect a Canvas tent (no small feat in itself).

Uniforms, travel arrangements etc. were all sorted out before we all set off in every direction from Paris.

As mature couriers, although not actively encouraged, we had our car with us. Others set off to airports, train stations, coaches etc. Suitcases at the ready. The packing of our car is an art in itself. A standard Focus with the back seats down, literally every inch is used and has been every year since. On arrival at the site two memories have remained with us ever since and get repeated each year.

The first is a healthy fear….. here we were suddenly responsible for real peoples holidays, that they’d saved for all year. And those same people were going to turn up any day now.

The second was a feeling of ownership. At this particular site it was an empty field at that time of the year. Gradually 28 large orange Canvas tents sprouted up around the grounds. Returning back to our accommodation each evening striding across the fields felt like a farmer crossing his land. For me at least it was a great feeling.

I often compared my “commute” there to travelling in a packed train to Waterloo each day !

Our main task at that stage was to ensure that all the individual tents were fully equipped and ready for the first customers arrival.

This is actually no small task as each tent is fully equipped from fridge to fork via the corkscrew. Multiplied by 28 tents it’s a lot of equipment. This onerous task is all taking place by the side of the Ardeche in the early summer sun !

Alongside the actual work, most time off was taken exploring the locality and getting together tourist information and knowledge about the area. This ends up in the Canvas Reception and provides a centre for Canvas customers, full of leaflets, maps and general information.

Eventually the first customers arrive. Pre-booked of course so we knew dates, numbers etc. to be expected.

This was a new phase and probably the most rewarding. This is the first opportunity to get to know the customers after probably a long journey, possibly new to camping and could even be first time abroad. Plenty of opportunities to get it right. Like any customer they expect you to be totally proficient in all these areas. Only days before, we had been striding across that empty field !! The season continues in much the same way. But routine it isn’t.

Each customer is unique, some days have more arrivals than others, the weather has a significant impact on camping and every family has a different request for information or more serious help and there’s always those gas levels to check. Spare time is typically spent being a tourist.

We remember one or two downpours and although the tents are fully waterproof, you can’t stop the ground surface water being somewhat uncooperative. At this point the Dunkirk spirit breaks out and again you see the best in customers as you help them bail out and dry off in the sunshine.

I remember, from my selective memory, that particular year had a heat wave most of the time, so a tolerance and protection from the sun is a prerequisite and the river of course was yards away to cool off in. Not something I often did in London at lunch time !

The season continued through to September in much the same way through the peaks of July and August and the slightly more peaceful low seasons either side. The range of customers also changing from the more elderly and couples off season through to a predominance of children at the peak. This in itself changes the scope of the role on a daily basis.

At close of season the tasks are very much in reverse. The campsite has to become a field again and everything packed away in an orderly fashion into stores, so that it can reappear and happen all over again the next year.

By the end of a season the outdoor life-style and the often hard work certainly leaves you feeling trim and healthy. Living costs can be kept low on-site and accommodation is supplied the same as customers have purchased for their holidays. You should indeed still be able to save money by the end of the season. And that unhealthy tan is worth a fortune back in the UK !

That was our first of 6 years. Each year since has been a variation on that theme. The second year we returned to the Ardeche region again. This time a different site with about 20 tents and mobiles. Mobiles provide a new challenge as they have more to go wrong and therefore being an amateur bodger helped me a lot. Blocked sinks hold no fears for me any more !

It was on this site that we had both a fire and flood evacuation in the same season. Seeing a gentle stream develop into a rage that nearly destroyed our mobile reception followed within a few weeks by watching helicopters lifting water out of our swimming pool, adds a few more life experiences. All the time you are immediately responsible for ensuring your customers are safe and secure.

The following year we were in Croatia. Again with about 30 tents and mobiles. Of course again new experiences on top of Croatia itself being a wonderful place to work. Although a well-established site itself it was a brand new site for Canvas and was literally a building site for our pitches. To say the local installers were laid back was an understatement and being the only Canvas representatives on site and opening day approaching was another of those experiences I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Needless to say it all came good, just in time.

The next year we wanted to stay in Croatia. So we tried a different company. Big mistake ! To cut a VERY long story short (no work permits, arrested, court, fined, and finally deported) we ended up in Italy. At this point, mid season, we reapplied to Canvas. Within literally hours we were in St. Tropez. It’s a tough job being a courier, but someone has to do it !

At this point I should add that even the events of those couple of weeks go down as some of the more memorable. Ignoring the camping company we were working for, the police, courts and then Canvas at the end couldn’t have treated us better.

The next year our 5th with Canvas we were in Brittany, about 20 mobiles, right next to the sea. No adventures I’m afraid. The weather was a bit like Britain that year, so we asked for a move down south if possible. It just so happened that another couple needed to move so we swapped with them to Southern Brittany, on what is an adventure playground on a grand scale and was very popular with the kids. Another new lovely bit of countryside to discover.

Last year we were in the Costa Brava, Spain. Again about 24 mobiles. A site we had been to privately many years before. A beautiful coastline and new language, culture, food and wine to discover.

This year ? We are off to the French Atlantic coast. New customers, new terrain and many new experiences (we hope). We know it won’t be dull though !!

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