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Ribby Hall village looks to the future after 20 acre expansion

PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 March 2017 | UPDATED: 11:16 12 June 2017

The complex has five stars from Visit England

The complex has five stars from Visit England

Lawson Photography

It’s one of Lancashire’s tourism success stories but not eveyone knows what lies beyond the gates of Ribby Hall Village. Roger Borrell reports.

Paul Harrison is expanding the businessPaul Harrison is expanding the business

BLINK as you drive past and the chances are you’ll miss Ribby Hall Village, which sits on the edge of the pretty Fylde community of Wrea Green. That would be a shame.

Venture through the entrance gates and you’ll be astonished by the size of Lancashire’s only five star holiday village. This is no spot for happy campers but a large but well designed complex of upmarket holiday homes. As a key player in the visitor economy, it contributes well over £1 million a year and the good news is that it’s about get bigger.

The family-owned business, headed by Paul Harrison, has purchased a nearby farm and its surrounding land to create an exciting new leisure venture. Just what that will be is still up for discussion.

The land is at the rear of the award-winning Spa Hotel, one of the jewels in the crown of the business, and it will add another 20 acres to the estate, which attracts many tens of thousands of people every year. It will mean another shot in the arm for the tourism industry.

The glorious lakeside location of cottages at Ribby Hall VillageThe glorious lakeside location of cottages at Ribby Hall Village

Paul is determined to involve as many members of his workforce as possible in creating this development – typical of a business which holds a gold award in the Investors in People scheme.

‘We are still looking at how plans could unfold,’ he said. ‘Rather than keeping it at management level we are engaging with employees to see if there are any development ideas within. We try to engage with staff – now over 500 – wherever possible to look at investment opportunities as they often have the on-the-ground knowledge of our product.

‘Whatever the outcome of the development, the environment will be key to our plans. As a business, sustainability is part of our DNA and any future development would have to be mindful of environmental impact and how we can maintain and improve our green credentials.’

Sustainability has always been one of the cornerstones of the business and Paul’s pronouncement should come as a relief to residents of Wrea Green, a place attracting developers eager to turn their surrounding fields into housing estates.

Paul with colleagues Sarah Fletcher and Janet Mulligan. There are over 500 employees.Paul with colleagues Sarah Fletcher and Janet Mulligan. There are over 500 employees.

The latest news comes hard on the heels of existing Ribby Hall development and improvement plans, which have included a £1.5million upgrade of the family swimming pool.

‘We also have plans to improve and expand some of our eateries and numerous other facilities during 2017,’ he said. ‘We are currently recruiting in many areas of our business and we are excited by the projects which will keep our business modern, fresh and appealing to our customers and guests. We expect to regularly bring something new and better to the business.

It has come a long way since Paul’s father, Bill, bought what was basically a rundown plot of 100 acres with pitches for caravans, toilet blocks and cowsheds. He had been running a caravan site near Blackpool but had long been interested in unlocking the potential of the Ribby Hall land.

Paul was running his own successful building firm in 1994 when the deal was sealed in the middle the recession. ‘I went around the site with him and said “Do you really want to do this?” He replied “Let’s go for it.”’

They concluded that it was a ten year project to complete the holiday village and financing required considerable determination on Bill’s part. So much so that at one stage he quit his long-standing but less than enthusiastic bank and moved his account to another who backed him with a £7 million loan. It was a good investment.

With the backing of the Fylde council, Paul oversaw the site development to create a small village of lodges while working on his company’s building projects in the Lake District. ‘Juggling the two was quite scary,’ says Paul. ‘To be honest, at times, it was mayhem.’

Despite working 7am-11pm six days a week their determination to creative something imaginative and different drove them on and the first holiday cottage was completed in June of 1995 with a further 20 surrounding the largest pond on site, Fisherman’s Reach.

Many more have followed. In fact, it has mushroomed into a complex of luxury accommodation, some holiday lets and some privately owned. As well as modern, well-equipped self-catering cottages, there are idyllic pine lodges with outdoor hot tubs and three larger bespoke properties each in their own private grounds. For a child-free break there is also the adult-only SPA Hotel, which regularly receives national recognition for its facilities and its cuisine won it a Lancashire Life Food & Drink Award.

As well as the family pool, there is a separate pool for adults with its own steam room and Jacuzzi, an adventure playground, health and fitness classes and spa and indoor soft play area. There are also ten different eateries including a tearoom, tapas bar and family friendly bar and grill plus a shop.

The most recent addition was Wild Discovery, opened by Michaela Strachan, of BBC’s Spring Watch. It is a new hands-on animal experience enabling children to get up close and learn about the amazing animal kingdom.

Paul’s father died in 1999 but his ethos lives on as Ribby Hall’s legacy, particularly when it comes to providing employment for young people, several of them rising through the ranks.

‘If you have the right attitude, enthusiasm and desire it’s amazing just what you can achieve,’ said Paul. That pretty much encapsulates the Ribby Hall story.

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