Andrea Challis: Welcome developments

By Ged Henderson

21 Mar 2023

Andrea Challis

Andrea Challis is looking at big numbers when it comes to investment in both the holiday park operator she co-owns and the wider Lancashire tourism industry.

The family-owned Partington Group is ploughing £50m into creating a new luxury holiday experience on a 165-acre site at Windy Harbour in Singleton. It is, as she explains, “a massive sign of confidence” in both the Fylde coast and the county’s tourism sector.

The site will cater for a mix of more than 500 lodges and caravans, incorporating premium leisure facilities, making Windy Harbour one of the biggest holiday parks in Lancashire. Looking at the vision and the investment Andrea says: “It is huge”.

The same amount of cash has just been approved for Eden Project Morecambe by the government as part of its levelling-up ambitions. The new £100m attraction on the resort’s seafront is set to attract 740,000 visitors annually and add many millions to Lancashire’s economy.

Optimism has been in short supply in recent times in a sector that has been hit badly by the pandemic and faced the challenges of rising costs and recruitment difficulties. But looking at these figures, Andrea says: “There’s lots to be optimistic about now.”

Andrea, joint chief executive of Partington’s with her brother Robert Kearsley, and the recently appointed interim chair of Marketing Lancashire, says there are many areas where the industry is “flourishing”.

And she is full of praise for the way tourism and hospitality businesses across the county met the challenges, citing their resilience and innovation.

Looking at how strongly her business came out of the pandemic, she says she was surprised at first but goes on: “People wanted somewhere to go with their family which was safe.

“Some who had never been on a caravan holiday before or holidayed in the UK started to come to our parks, they bought caravans and are coming back. They didn’t know what Lancashire had or what they had on their doorstep.

“People come to our parks and visit Blackpool, they also enjoy Lancashire’s scenery, all the places to go walking and cycling and the great food offering we have. A family fun experience runs right through everything we do.”

She believes the demand for UK holidays remains strong and adds: “People today have less money to spend, they want good quality and they don’t want to pay through the nose for it.

“All sectors have to look at the product that they are offering and it has to be about quality and value for money.”

With that in mind, Partington’s is investing £5m on upgrades and refurbishment, including the creation of a themed family entertainment centre at its Newton Hall site. With ten-pin bowling, café, a performance space and interactive family games and activities, it will open this summer.

The fourth-generation family business, founded by Andrea and Robert’s grandfather George Partington, will be 79 years old in November. It started at the family’s Newton Hall home near Blackpool on land they owned. Looking back Andrea says: “I was brought up around caravans.”

Today the business has six parks across the north of England, in Lancashire, the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales, including the new planned development at Windy Harbour. It provides static and touring caravan pitches, glamping pods, five-star cottages, and premium lodges – a mix of owned and available for holiday bookings.

Andrea has been with the business for three decades. After her degree in clothing design and production management she went to work for a Swedish company in sales before taking up a position with the holiday firm Airtours, which was founded in east Lancashire.

“Working in the family business was the last thing I wanted to do. I did everything I could to get away from it,” she says with a smile.

“Then a sales position came available that I thought would suit me and I actually loved it. And since then, I’ve never ever woken up and not wanted to go to work.”

Today Partington’s has a £25m annual turnover and employs around 300 people. Putting a smile on their faces is as important as having happy park visitors, Andrea says. “I go to any part of our business, and I see smiles and I think that is huge.

“We were slightly concerned after Covid that people were feeling low so we had a chat with our HR director to see what we could do to bring that happy feeling.”

The result was an employee engagement programme called ‘Fun at Partington’s’. Andrea says: “I go around all the parks with Robert and we do team building and fun activities.

“The company is split into two teams. One is mine and the other is Robert’s, and it is really competitive. The winning team members get half a day’s holiday.”

When it comes to staffing levels, she says most parts of the business are fully staffed and adds: “We’ve just held a recruitment day and 78 people turned up, which is phenomenal and the quality of candidates was brilliant.

“If you are known in your local area for being a good employer and you pay a decent rate and you look after people and genuinely care, not just give lip service, they will want to join you and stay with you.

“We have a new starter programme where everyone who joins is introduced to the chief executives, so we know the name of everyone in the business, whatever their position. Meeting them is my favourite part of the job, they’re the face of our company.”

Andrea became interim chair of Marketing Lancashire in June last year after being a board member since 2019. She is also a member of the Blackpool’s tourism recovery group, a director of Blackpool Tourism Bid and on Blackpool and the Fylde College’s board.

The mum-of-two, who is about to become a grandmother again, was appointed deputy lieutenant of the county last July and in her spare time volunteers at Blackpool’s Trinity Hospice. “I like being busy,” she explains.

Talking of her Marketing Lancashire role, she says promoting the Eden Project will be “massively important” for the organisation. “It is going to take tourism in Lancashire to a whole new level,” she adds. “It will have a massive impact.”

She would also like to see more people follow in the footsteps of ‘Freddie’ Flintoff and sign up as Lancashire Ambassadors, joining the campaign to raise the county’s profile.

Andrea says: “We need more people outside the county to realise what a great place this is, not just to visit but to live and to work.”

Andrea is one of Lancashire Business View’s ‘Women Who Inspire’. But who has inspired her in her business journey?

She says: “My mother and father. My mum is a shareholder in the business and always gives such great advice and is such a strong person.

“Dad was from an era where ‘little girls’ and ‘little boys’ were treated differently. My father never did that. I never felt that as a female I wasn’t able to contribute in the same way as a male.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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