Tracey Sutton

Carrie Drage talks to Tracey Sutton, Leisure Benefits Co-ordinator (LBC) for Waitrose head office in Bracknell, who acts as an organiser for 4,000 staff members at her branch, and is also one of a group of LBCs who arrange trips for 80,000 employees of the John Lewis Partnership.

Tracey outside Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

Tracey outside Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

Tracey Sutton has a long history as an events organiser. Although she has only been in her current role as Leisure Benefits Co-ordinator (or LBC as it is shortened to) for Waitrose head office in Bracknell (part of the John Lewis Partnership) for two and a half years, she has more than 15 years experience in total. She started out in customer services at Park Royal distribution centre in London, where she voluntarily joined the social committee, and this soon led to a paid position as Social Secretary for Park Royal, Caleys in Windsor (which no longer exists) and Greatham Road distribution centre in Watford, which are also part of the John Lewis Partnership.

In her current paid position, Tracey organises one or two events, day trips, theatre weekends and holidays a month for roughly 4,000 employees, together with friends and family. She also works with other LBCs to arrange events that are open to employees at all other branches of the Partnership, which number in excess of 80,000 people. For instance, later this month, the Partnership has exclusive access to Marvellous, a music festival at Wellington Country Park, in Berkshire. She explains, “The festival itself takes place on the Friday and Saturday but we’ve got exclusive hire of the facilities for the Sunday where there will be tribute bands for the likes of Take That, Abba, Bob Marley and Queen entertaining us.”

Lean on me

Tracey produces her core programme in the autumn and, once she knows her budget for the year in January, will decide how much to subsidise each trip. Although Tracey organises all visits independently, she has a team of volunteers to help ensure things run smoothly on the day.

Inspiration for Tracey’s programme is sourced from current affairs, television and magazines. She admits, “I also listen to suggestions from other staff members who email me with ideas of places to visit.”

Tracey advertises her programme on the intranet and on noticeboards in communal areas within the various departmental buildings. Booking forms are downloadable from the intranet and these are either emailed to Tracey or printed off and posted back.

In plane sight

Tracey organises an average of three or four overseas holidays a year and the rest of her programme is based in Britain. She says, “The foreign holidays have always been popular. They give people the chance to experience places they would not necessarily get to see otherwise.”

This year, in March, the group ventured to Iceland for four nights and were lucky to escape the disruptions surrounding the Eyjafjallajoekull volcanic eruption. Tracey says, “We flew over the same day as the eruption but managed to get in and out before they closed the airspace.” Tracey booked the trip with The Travel Adventure in Sussex who she had used for a group holiday to Toronto in Canada last May. She says, “I use The Travel Adventure a lot and have never had any problems with them.”

After 15 years experience as an organiser, Tracey has gotten to know what destinations are amongst the most popular and in her previous position as Social Secretary, America was one of these. New York, for example, the group visited on at least three occasions. The last time was six years ago with Success Tours, based in Wiltshire, a five-night trip that included a three-night visit to Boston. Tracey remarks, “Tony Flanagan at Success Tours always puts together a good package for us.” In New York, the group stayed at Hotel Pennsylvania near Madison Square Gardens. She admits, “It was a good location for shopping.”

Las Vegas is another destination that the group has visited on three occasions and Tracey describes as an “adults paradise”. The last visit was five years ago, again with Success Tours. Tracey remembers, “I organised excursions to the Hoover Dam and a flight over the Grand Canyon.”

Tigers were also on the itinerary during the 10-day holiday to South Africa four years ago where the group stayed at the Kruger National Park. She admits, “This was my favourite trip. The safari was an amazing experience.” The holiday was booked with Travelsphere in Market Harborough after Tracey visited the country on a familiarisation tour. She remarks, “It was on this recci that I met lots of other group organisers that continue to be important to me. It’s good to keep in touch with like-minded GTOs because you can exchange ideas and feed off each other.”

Continental capers

As well as the more adventurous holidays outside the Euro zone, Tracey also has a few European favourites that she repeats every so often. Disneyland Paris is one such example. The group last visited in 2008 with Success Tours where they stayed at Disney’s Sequoia Lodge on the resort. Tracey says, “I’ve been to Disneyland in the United States and, even though Disneyland Paris is half the size, it’s just as fantastic.”

Belgium is another destination that Tracey has no trouble selling to the Waitrose employees. Her most recent break was to Bruges for two nights in 2008 with Success Tours where she organised a guided walking tour of the town as part of the itinerary. She adds, “I find guided tours are well worth the money because they give more interest to the group.”

More recently, in October last year, the group visited Rome in Italy for four nights with The Travel Adventure. She explains, “This proved to be extremely popular and I ended up sending 70 people in two goes.” The group took advantage of every tourist opportunity including a visit to the Vatican.

On the home front

The majority of Tracey’s programme is based in the UK and can consist of anything from karaoke and quiz nights at the on-site bar in Bracknell head office to spa days. A group has just recently returned from a spa day at the Royal County of Berkshire Health & Racquets Club in Bracknell, which came with two treatments and lunch. Tracey says, “They offered me a good discounted rate so I decided to give them a go.”

Tracey is also known for organising day trips to various destinations in Britain; however, rather than put together an itinerary, she prefers to let people do their own thing. She says, “Last year, the group visited Bath in Somerset and Bournemouth in Dorset. Some people like to spend the day shopping whereas others will use the time to visit attractions.” Transport for these types of visits is usually arranged with Fernhill Travel in Bracknell. Tracey explains, “My predecessor used to use them and they have always been good in my experience.”

Visits to sporting events also feature on Tracey’s programme. For example, just this month a group went to the Henley Royal Regatta in Oxfordshire. Transport for the event was a little unusual with a vintage bus, owned by a colleague of Tracey’s, taking passengers to and from Hurley Lock where they boarded the steam boat ‘Nuneham’, operated by French Brothers. She explains, “Members of the group brought picnics to enjoy whilst they took in the races at Henley-on-Thames.”

Theatre always goes down a treat with Tracey’s group, particularly the West End shows, which she nearly always books with See Groups. She explains, “They manage to get me the best seats each time, which is the most important thing.” Tracey has also used Newmarket Travel Service in Surrey who organise a Best of the West End overnight package. She states, “The good thing about this is that people can choose what show they want to watch on the Saturday.”

A good listener

Tracey believes that one of the best things about being an LBC for such a large Partnership is the support she gets from other LBCs. She explains, “If, for any reason, I have trouble selling places on any of my trips, all I have do is contact other LBCs in the region and they can normally find people to fill them, and vice versa.”

Tracey understands that time is precious outside of work and, subsequently, ensures that the group’s time together is as fun as possible and that any feedback is taken on board. She says, “I like to think that I’m approachable and listen to what people want. I also pull together as much information as possible before a trip to make sure it runs smoothly.”

Tracey is already thinking ahead to next year’s programme with a theatre trip to Legally Blonde The Musical at London’s Savoy Theatre in September and a four-day break to Lake Garda, in Italy, in October, already confirmed. She has also organised a two-day shopping trip to Cardiff, with Gloucester-based Phoenix Holidays, staying at the Radisson Blu Hotel.