Domestic Bliss

Carrie Drage meets Joan Hanks, Events Co-ordinator for the St. Andrews Ladies Luncheon Club, in Bedfordshire, who has been instrumental in growing their programme from monthly lunch dates to an average of 10 day trips and holidays a year, mostly in the UK.

Joan Hanks

Joan Hanks

Started in 1997 as a luncheon club for ladies that had masonic connections, the St Andrews Ladies Luncheon Club in Bedfordshire was initially set up to target widows that had lost touch with friends. Posters were put up in local masonic venues and, as a result, more than 30 people turned up to the first meeting. Joan says, “It was a resounding success and, within a month, I was on the committee, in charge of advertising and recruitment.”
The monthly luncheons are still at the heart of the club’s activities, taking place every second Wednesday in the month at the St Andrews Masonic Centre in Biggleswade. As well as her duties as Events Co-ordinator, Joan also cooks lunch for the ladies that attend the monthly luncheons.
The club had been running two years before it was decided to introduce an annual outing. Joan reveals, “The organisation was rubbish! The coach driver didn’t know the directions and, on the journey there, the coach couldn’t get up the hill.” Despite the setbacks, the group enjoyed their day out immensely and, with great perseverance, it wasn’t long before the annual outing increased to four. This has since risen to an average of 10 excursions and holidays a year, with Joan taking on the role of Events Co-ordinator from 2004.

A smooth operation

Joan’s provisional programme for the year is usually decided in the lead up to the annual AGM in October, and is brought to the members’ attention at the event. She says, “I source ideas from everywhere. I’m lucky enough to have travelled a lot and I also get sent a lot of literature; my post lady says I get the most mail out of anyone in the village!”
Joan produces a newsletter twice a year to advertise her programme; this is distributed at the luncheons in June and at Christmas. She explains, “I have an assistant who hands these out, puts up posters around the centre and takes deposits for trips. She’s a great help.”
The club itself has a set membership of 50 people who each pay £10 for the year. Joan explains, “Because of the size of the centre, it makes sense to keep it at this.” To make the cost of hiring the coach more reasonable, members are allowed to bring a friend along for the outings and holidays.

The members in Oxford

The members in Oxford

City sightseeing

Joan books the transport for her day trips with Chambers Coaches of Stevenage, in Hertfordshire. She says, “They offer a very personal service and our regular coach driver, Gary, is great at providing inpromptu commentaries.”
London is a destination that features a lot on Joan’s programme and one visit that stands out in her memory is Buckingham Palace and the Royal Mews in 2006. She remembers, “My group loved it! It felt strange to imagine that the Queen actually lives here.”
That same year, she organised a BBC Backstage Tour at the London television studios. She says, “We had a go at presenting the weather, which was more difficult than it looks but a lot of fun.”
Although Joan plans most of her day trips independently, occasionally she liaises with local tourist boards. This was certainly the case for the group’s visit to Oxford in 2008, which included an open top bus tour and boat ride to Abingdon Lock.”
Like many GTOs, Joan likes to organise a Christmas outing for her group and one that went down a treat with her members was the visit to Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre in 2009. Joan remarks, “There is quite a lot to see here, plus it’s well organised with plenty of parking for coaches.”

Water, water everywhere

After a couple of years organising the club’s day trip programme, Joan decided it was time to be more adventurous and introduce the first group holiday. Norton Grange Coastal Village, the Warner Leisure Hotels property on the Isle of Wight, was the very first destination back in 2006. Joan remembers, “We went for four nights and I was very impressed. There was a good selection of food and entertainment every night.” It was booked through InterChoice Holidays in Wolverhampton and Joan says, “Stuart there is lovely.”
Also that year, the group entered new territory once again with their first ever overseas holiday – a four-day German Rhine cruise, booked with The River Cruise Line in Market Harborough. Cruising on the ‘mps Lady Anne’, the break coincided with the Christmas markets and the group were given time ashore at Rüdesheim and Cologne to peruse the various festive stalls.
Indeed, cruising is a popular pastime for Joan’s members and, in 2009, The River Cruise Line put together another itinerary for the group, this time for a weekend in Paris. She says, “We had a lovely overnight cruise on the ‘Renoir’, sailing from the centre of Paris to Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.”
Continuing the maritime theme was the three-day break to Hartlepool last August, which was built around the Tall Ships Festival. She comments, “There were over 100 ships moored up, with loads of activities going on including a market and massive fireworks display in the evening.”

The group enjoying some downtime on the Rhine.

The group enjoying some downtime on the Rhine.

No room for error

Understandably, a lot of effort goes into producing Joan’s programme, which is why she never leaves anything to chance. She explains, “I usually do a dry run either with my husband or alone. Although we cannot always avoid hold-ups, I check road works, diversions, timings and the facilities en route and at our venue. I even go so far as making sure the toilet stops are clean and the food in the restaurants is up to standard. I would hate for anyone to be disappointed!”
In 2007, Joan joined the Group Travel Organisers’ Association and has not looked back since. She remarks, “The opportunity to network with others in the business is really helpful. Also, the legal information we obtain gives us greater security in what we do.”
Although Joan is still in the planning stages for much of her upcoming programme, some of the highlights already confirmed for the year include a visit to the Royal Albert Hall for a performance of Madam Butterfly in March and a trip to the Edinburgh Tattoo in August. The group will also be helping one of their ladies celebrate her 100th birthday in September!
Summing up, Joan is well aware that everyone has their part to play in the success of the club. She says, “Nothing happens by chance. It takes a lot of planning for an event to happen. Luckily, I have a committed team to help me out and lots of willing participants to come on the trips.”