John Child: Having a splashing time

By Ged Henderson

27 May 2022

john-child-at-sandcastle-waterpark.jpg

John Child dived in at the deep end 35 years ago and is still making waves in Blackpool and beyond.

During his time at Blackpool’s Sandcastle Waterpark he has risen to the top and gone from lifeguard/supervisor to managing director of the internationally acclaimed attraction.

Under his leadership, John has been MD for a quarter of a century, it has developed into the UK’s largest indoor waterpark, with more than 18 slides and attractions and over 360,000 visitors a year.

The Sandcastle opened in 1986 on the Promenade, on the site of the former South Shore open air baths. John has overseen its transformation from a loss-making operation to a company that makes a multi-millionpound contribution to Blackpool Council’s coffers. John says: “It is not all about profit, though looking after your customers and your team is what will make you a great bottom line.”

John has worked in Blackpool’s tourism sector since he was a teenager, his first job was in the Fun House café at the Pleasure Beach. He says: “Then as a student I progressed onto the amusements and rides side of the business, and it gave me a good grounding in leisure and hospitality. I thoroughly enjoyed the people side of it.

“One of the managers in particular impressed me, the way he treated his staff, was approachable and did things in a certain way. He showed me the importance of the team and mentoring people, bringing them on.”

After completing his geology degree, John returned to the resort and was working in a hotel and as a swimming teacher when he saw the Sandcastle was being built.

He says: “I was interested in this type of attraction and thought that there might be an opportunity. Swimming was my passion.”

John, who had won a local lifesaving competition, applied and got a job as a lifeguard and supervisor, also helping with training.

He was made manager in 1988, operations manager two years later, was general manager by 1997 and after completing his Masters degree in business, became a director of the company not long after.

Taking over the reins of the Sandcastle as managing director was, he says: “a great opportunity”. He adds: “It was a long way away from the attraction it is now. But I had a vision for the place, I wanted to see it become something special.

“I’d seen what other places had done and it was clear we’d fallen behind, there had been no investment.”

That changed when Blackpool Council bought the operation in 2003, subsequently operating it as an arms-length company. The business changed direction, sector leading water attractions were put into the park, helping turn its fortunes around.

However, John says that success is not just about the slides, fun pools and wave machines.

He says: “The guest service must be excellent. You have to create that great culture within your organisation, a culture of guest service excellence and inclusion for all.

“That’s achieved through a thousand and one small gestures and attention to detail. It is everything, from the way the team speak to guests to making sure things are clean and well maintained.”

He adds: “I’ve loved building the business. I’ve seen people coming to work for us and developing. We’ve given them transferable skills and I’m proud to see them go on from here and do well.”

Diversity is also important to John and under his leadership the waterpark has been at the vanguard of disability tourism globally.

He is proud to be an accessibility champion and member of an inclusive tourism action group and talks of the work that goes into making the attraction a welcoming place for everybody.

During his time, he’s also seen what he calls Blackpool’s “readjustment” and believes the tide is turning for the resort.

He says: “There’s a lot of investment in Blackpool and I’d say the attractions are the best they have ever been. They really are the jewel in the country’s tourism crown, possibly only London can compete and I’m proud to be part of this continuing journey.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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