RICHARD FIRTH took his wife Julie and children Isla, aged five, and Charlie, three, to Haven’s Church Farm holiday park, just outside Chichester.
CHURCH Farm was my first experience of a holiday camp, or indeed caravan/holiday home accommodation of any kind.
Stepping into our ‘Prestige’ holiday home, I was stunned at what you can actually fit into what is essentially a big caravan.
From left to right – a spacious living room with a big sofa and TV, a kitchen section with ample food preparation space and a decent-sized table with chairs around, a bathroom with double shower, a twin bedroom with lots of storage space and what can only be described as a luxurious master bedroom with good-sized bed and en-suite.
All furnished to a very good standard, we forgave the lack of the promised DVD player for what was genuinely excellent accommodation.
Our home sat on a vast complex – hundreds of mobile homes, set in idyllic countryside and on the edge of a lagoon, right by the sea.
Church Farm has a really good infrastructure. It has some fantastic outdoor space, a huge bar/café with a play area attached so parents can relax while their kids run riot, heated outdoor and indoor swimming pools and a well presented showbar with amusement arcade and lashings of entertainment.
It has a nine-hole golf course, crazy golf and a bowling green.
But all is not well, or at least it wasn’t while we were there.
The staff, almost without exception, were at best unhelpful. At worst, they carried an air of surliness about them which bordered on the offensive.
I say almost without exception because the affable, grey-haired chap (he didn’t have a name badge) on the gate was charm personified, always saying hello and making a fuss of the children. And my wife managed to find one barman who was civil to her. But everything seemed too much trouble for the majority of them.
Largely because of the staff, we had a number of complaints with the site which could and should have been completely avoidable.
Firstly, with dozens of sunbathing families sizzling in the baking heat (we were there at Easter) the outdoor pool was closed for the entirety of our stay, apparently because it wasn’t ‘ready for use’ so early in the year.
This begged a couple of questions. Firstly, a lack of forward planning is surely betrayed when the outdoor pool isn’t open during a packed bank holiday weekend in scorching heat. Fair enough, it was unseasonably hot but surely it was worth taking the chance to have it ready just in case.
Secondly, how long does it take to get a swimming pool ready? It was full of water.
Pristine sun loungers lay regimented and unused around it.
The same disinterested youth was spotted scrubbing unproductively and unspecifically around the rim of the pool on our first day and our last as fuming families got hotter and redder on the periphery.
The closure of the outdoor pool meant the indoor one was simply too busy to use, as dive-bombing teenagers spatchcocked into the pool, inches away from rubber-ring clutching toddlers and their frightened parents.
The bar/café is called the Mash and Barrel and serves decent food and drink. The outdoor terrace is a wonderful space and great for sitting out in when the sun’s shining.
It wasn’t quite as pleasant the following morning when we went there for breakfast. All the glasses and bottles from the night before had been cleared up but the tables had not been cleaned.
You don’t need me to tell you what dozens of hungry and thirsty families - slarting ketchup on their burgers and beer down their tops with the same gay abandon - can do to a glass table over the course of a sunny 12-hour period.
My daughter put her elbow in a blob of barbecue sauce at breakfast. She wasn’t happy.
She was more happy with the children’s entertainment, especially the mini disco, which took place nightly. But I’ve seen much better children’s discos than this.
The staff made no effort to get involved with the children, beckoning them to the dancefloor from a podium about 12 feet up and to the side of the stage. They were not dancing with the children, showing them dance moves to copy or even playing children’s music.
The character show was disastrous with people in costumes standing directly in front of a big screen which was showing other characters in different locations – we could hear them but no-one could see them.
The onstage characters were under-rehearsed and evidently under-enthused by their task as their movements strayed ever further away from the dubbed voices with which they were meant to be in synch.
The staff running the children’s entertainment were clearly putting in the very minimum of effort but, to be fair, the children seemed to enjoy themselves. It’s just that they could have enjoyed themselves a lot more with a bit more energy from the staff.
My appreciation of our time in the bar was marred somewhat by the exorbitant drinks prices. A gin and tonic was over £4, a bottle of beer not much cheaper.
Organisationally, things did not run well.
For example, there’s a couple of fantastic bungee trampolines at Church Farm. To get on them, you book in advance at a hut near the swimming pool. We booked our daughter’s five minute slot for 5.45pm, to give her ample time to get to the mini disco at 6.30pm. But the timetable the man operating the bungee trampoline was using was different to the one used by the people in the booking hut.
Consequently, she didn’t get on until 6.35pm. Typically, no-one wanted to take any responsibility for this, again, readily avoidable mistake.
The nadir for me though, was the on-site fish and chip shop. I assume it is run on a franchise arrangement but it is, without doubt, the most shoddily run fish and chip shop I have ever visited. It also shut bizarrely early so if you were leaving the showbar with your children at, say 9pm, it was shut, as was the poorly stocked on site supermarket.
When it was open, you couldn’t get near it for scores of starving customers waiting for their food. Each portion of food was cooked to order, nothing wrong with that you might say, but what they appeared to be doing was taking a dozen orders and then cooking them one at a time, frying one portion of chips, wrapping them and then frying the next batch completely separately. It was beyond a joke.
Off-site, someone had recommended we spend a day at the nearby West Wittering beach, a gorgeous, vast, stretch of golden sand half an hour’s drive away.
Similar recommendations had been made to what appeared to be around 5,000 others but the beach is more than big enough to cope with double that and we had a lovely day.
We came away with mixed views. I thought Church Farm was badly let down by its staff but my wife was at pains to point out that the kids hadn’t noticed any of the things I found fault with and had raved about their whole stay.
For that reason alone, I’d go back.
Church Farm offers a choice of accommodation from the luxurious top of the range ‘Platinum’ holiday homes to the more economical ‘Standard’ range. All offer two/three bedrooms, lounge with TV, well-equipped kitchen/dining area, shower and loo. The price includes full use of the park facilities and entertainment.
Breaks in June start at £279 for a family of up to six in two bedroom Superior accommodation based on 3 nights from 3rd June.
For details, special offers and immediate bookings visit www.haven.com call 0871 230 1900.
Touring caravans and tents are also welcome at Church Farm. Call 0871 230 1933 for more information. Or visit www.haventouring.com If you’d like to buy your own holiday home at Church Farm prices for a caravan start at around £19,995. Visit www.havenholidayhomes.co.uk or call 0871 230 1299.