A New Beginning

After many years assisting another group travel club, Enid Pamment used her experiences to set up the Shefford Leisure Group, aimed primarily at the active retired in Bedfordshire. Carrie Drage finds out more.

Enid Pamment

Enid Pamment

Enid Pamment has been a group organiser in some form or another ever since she was a little girl. She says, “When I was at school I was always organising activities for the social club. Then, in 1986, I was asked to arrange a dancing competition in Malta for the dancing group that my husband and I belonged to. Seventy-seven of us made the trip from Heathrow Airport and the event was even televised in Malta!” This is when Enid became serious about becoming a group organiser and, not long after, she began assisting Derek Scott with the administration for the Lions Holiday Club, a sub-group of the Letchworth Garden City & Baldock Lions Club in Hertfordshire. Enid explains, “Derek worked in maintenance and used to travel round all the old people’s homes in the area. He noticed that a lot of the residents didn’t get out much and started the holiday club as a remedy to this.” It was only when Enid and her husband moved away from the area 16 years ago that she had to give up her responsibilities. She saw a need for a similar club in her new home town of Shefford, in Bedfordshire, and put a notice in the Meppershall Messenger – a monthly bulletin distributed to residents in the nearby village of Meppershall – to gauge the level of interest; hence the Shefford Leisure Group was born. Enid remarks, “I still use the Meppershall Messenger to advertise our services but mostly we get members through word of mouth. My current members are slightly different to those of my previous club; most of them I would describe as actively retired but it is open to all ages.”
These members pay £10 a year to join, which is put towards the cost of postage, printing and general administration. The membership fee is per household so those joining as a couple pay the same price as a single person. Every month, Enid produces a newsletter containing information about both past and future excursions, which is mailed out to nearly 200 households, together with a booking form. As the group grew in size, Enid was grateful for offers of help from some of the members. She says, “ There are two people in particular that are invaluable to me. The first is Alf Evans who maintains the database and posts the newsletters, and the other is Mary Lowe who helps me write the newsletter and stay on top of the club’s finances. I meet up with Mary about three times a week. She’s always happy to contribute ideas, as are my members who frequently email me.” She continues, “I also find it useful to read trade publications like Group Travel Organiser magazine and visit shows like Best of Britain and Ireland.”
Enid’s programme of trips currently extends to an average of three day excursions a month and up to three holidays a year, both in the UK and overseas. Enid also organises an annual get-together at Shefford Memorial Hall in March with a buffet dinner, entertainment and tombola. She explains, “On every coach outing, I arrange a raffle and the proceeds go towards a collection for Keech Hospice Care for Children, a local charity. The cheque is presented to a charity representative at the annual event. We normally raise about £1,400 a year!”

Taking a train ride round Bekonscot Model Village.

Taking a train ride round Bekonscot Model Village.

Well connected

Enid is Chairman of the Eastern branch of the Group Travel Organisers’ Association (GTOA) and when it comes to holidays, she contacts some of the organisation’s associate members to provide quotes. She says, “There are a select few that I use all the time and I try to share my business round them.”
Scotland was the destination for a six-day break in 2005, booked with Bowens Group Travel in Staffordshire. Enid says, “I have a good working relationship with David Lote. He’s full of fun.” The group was based just outside Edinburgh and excursions to the Royal Yacht Britannia and the Edinburgh Tattoo featured on the itinerary. She says, “The tattoo is great entertainment no matter what your age.”
just for groups!, part of Grand UK Holidays, is another of the companies approached by Enid on a regular basis. Indeed, she booked an enjoyable four-night break to the Isle of Wight in 2007 through the Norwich-based firm. Enid says, “I’ve always found the staff to be very helpful; very friendly.” The group stayed at the Parkbury Hotel in Sandown, which Enid describes as having “good entertainment” and a couple of days were put aside for excursions. Enid remembers, “We visited Godshill, home of the famous model village, and Osborne House, home to Queen Victoria.”
The same year, the group embarked on a three-night Turkey and Tinsel break at Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria. This was booked with Yorks Coach Holidays in Lincolnshire, part of the Bowen Travel Group. Enid says, “The team are very friendly to deal with.” The accommodation for the break was provided by the Cumbria Grand Hotel. Enid comments, “It was a fantastic property. The decor is lovely and it’s popular with coach parties.”
More recently, in June last year, the group visited Paignton for eight days with Interchoice Holidays. Enid says, “I’ve used them on a few occasions and I’ve always been pleased with the service they’ve provided.” During their stay, the group visited Babbacombe Model Village. Enid says, “We had a lovely day out here. I remember taking my group to Bekonscot Model Village in 2007 and everyone raved about it. This was just as good!”

Dining in Croatia

Dining in Croatia

In foreign lands

As well as UK holidays, the group also venture overseas on a regular basis. Understandably, the safety of the group is a priority for Enid, which is why she asks members to complete a medical form and keep it on them during the holiday. She explains, “A few years ago one of my members had a fall and ended up in the hospital. Luckily, she was still conscious but it got me thinking. Now, if someone has an accident and it’s a case of life or death, the attending medical staff have all the necessary medical information to hand.”
Most of Enid’s holidays are in Europe although the group has been known to travel further afield. For instance, in 2007, the members flew to Canada for an eight-day twin centre break to Toronto and Niagara Falls. The trip was booked with Success Tours in Wiltshire. Enid says, “In the past, we’ve travelled to Italy several times with the company because they’re very knowledgeable on the country.” Two of the days were spent in Toronto, where the group enjoyed a guided coach tour before making the journey to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the remaining time. Enid comments, “Niagara-onthe-Lake is a lovely place; really quaint.”
Back in Europe, the group have been on a couple of river cruises in recent years. The first of these was in 2009 when the members cruised the waterways of Holland aboard ‘Prinses Christina’, with just for groups! There were three excursions built into the holiday including a visit to Keukenhof. “It was bulbfield time and the displays were fabulous”, says Enid.
The group enjoyed the cruise so much that Enid booked a Rhine cruise for August the following year, also aboard ‘Prinses Christina’. The eight-day holiday was again booked through just for groups! and the members weren’t disappointed. Enid remembers, “The crew really looked after us. Even down to simple details like having our luggage waiting for us outside our cabin doors when we got off the coach.”
Another recent holiday was an eight-day break to Croatia in 2008, booked with just for groups!, staying at the Hotel Flower Complex in Rabac. Enid says, “I was very impressed with the standard of accommodation.” A highlight was the excursion to the Postojna Caves. Enid says, “The cave system is really impressive and at one point you travel aboard a train.”

Enjoying an ice cream in the Rhine region

Enjoying an ice cream in the Rhine region

Out for the day

Enid’s day trip programme covers a range of activities and transport for these is mostly booked through local coach firm, Chambers Coaches, in Stevenage. She laughs, “The drivers are very friendly; whether this is because they like us or is something to do with the jar of sweets I pass round on all my trips is anyone’s guess!”
Enid also uses the services of another local group organiser, Philip Howe of Stevenage Group Travel, to supplement her programme of trips. She explains, “Philip always sends me details of what he has coming up and lets me know the ones he’d like me to push to the group.” Theatre visits, in particular, feature prominently on his programme and teaming up with Philip works in Enid’s favour. She says, “Sometimes I only get about 10 takers for theatre visits so this way they can share a large coach with Philip’s members and get a cheaper deal. We normally do about two theatre visits a month.”
Events and festivals also feature regularly on Enid’s programme and, in recent years, the group has visited everything from the Chelsea Flower Show to the Grand Opera Gala by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, held at the Royal Albert Hall. One of the most popular events attended by the group is the Lord Mayor’s Show, in London, in November, which is attended on a yearly basis, in collaboration with Stevenage Group Travel. She says, “The good thing about going by coach is that you’re given permission to park on Blackfriars Bridge to watch the fireworks display.”
Another event that is always well-attended is the Glenn Miller Festival, which takes place over the August bank holiday at Twinwood Airfield in Bedfordshire. The group last visited in 2007 for a day out on the Sunday. Enid remembers, “There’s loads of great music by the likes of Sticky Wicket and the John Miller Orchestra, as well as an RAF Spitfire display.”
The Thursford Christmas Spectacular also brings back fond memories for the members. Last November, Enid took a couple of coaches to the event, one midweek and the other on a weekend. She remarks, “This is the show to beat all shows!”
Aside from a packed programme of events, Enid also organises a lot of guided tours for her group. These are mostly booked through City & Village Tours in London. Enid remarks, “I can always guarantee that the trips will be excellent.” ‘The Suffolk Coastal Tour’ and ‘Made in Birmingham’ are just a couple of the tours experienced by the group in recent years and ‘Essex Smuggling Haunts and Colchester’ has already been confirmed for March. The most popular, however, was ‘Land of Hope & Glory’ in London, organised for both March and October last year. Enid says, “The tour includes a visit to the Woolwich Arsenal, which is excellent. The Fields of Fire archive film show is amazing and you also get to meet some of the soldiers.”
Meanwhile, in June last year, Enid organised for the members to have a day out at Forty Hall and Capel Manor Gardens in Enfield. She says, “Forty Hall belongs to the Parker Bowles family and there’s tons to do in the grounds. As for Capel Manor Gardens, there’s lots of themed gardens designed by students of the college, including one by Kim Wilde.”

Watching the Lord Mayor's Show

Watching the Lord Mayor's Show

In the blood

Some argue that the ability to be a group organiser is an innate quality and Enid is a strong advocate for this. She says, “As long as I can remember, I’ve been organising events for different groups of people and I really believe it’s in my blood.” For those keen to try their hand as a GTO, she has some sound advice. “If you want to get anywhere in this business, you need two main qualities – a listening ear and, above all else, a good sense of humour!”
As an organiser for retired residents, Enid has a lot of widows in her group and is sympathetic when it comes to inducting new members. She says, “A lot of people are shy about coming on their own so I make sure I pair them up with another single person on the coach to put them at ease.”
As with a lot of GTOs, the start of the New Year is a busy time for Enid who is busy planning for the months ahead. So far, a number of day trips and holidays have been confirmed including a five-day break to Tuscany and a visit to Newmarket and the Gallops in April.
Summing up her experiences as a group organiser, Enid says, “I’ve met so many nice people from all walks of life, but the one thing we all have in common is a passion for travel.” She adds, “I’ve no intention of giving up. Now that I’m retired, it gives me something to do and certainly keeps the old grey matter ticking over!”