Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Center Parcs - common sense on Health and Safety

Womble on Tour & family have just come back from a week at Center Parcs. What a fantastic example of a private sector company it is.

The customer service is always superb. The environment is peaceful. They’ve put a lot of thought into the layout of the campus so that each villa feels secluded and tranquil behind trees and yet when you reach the communal buildings you are surrounded by opportunities to take part in challenging, strenuous or stimulating activities.

Center Parcs pride themselves on their commitment to the environment and have planted much of the forest that gives the place its aura of calm. They attract and protect wildlife, and recycle as much as possible.

Cars are banned for most of the time so people get around on foot, by cycle or wheelchair – everywhere is disabled-friendly. When you’ve got to where you’re going you can swim, play all sorts of sports, have a work out, look at the abundant wildlife or sit and have a drink or a decent meal.

Center Parcs is a wonderful place for children; I’d have loved it when I was little because there is just so much to see, feel and do. But one of the things that makes it that little bit special is that the place is not crawling with Health & Safety fascists telling you what to do all the time.

In any place run by the government or a local council, there’s a whole army of people dedicated to making sure that risk is pretty much eliminated from whatever anyone is doing. Often this manifests itself to a quite ludicrous degree. When I took one of my children – five years old at the time - out of their depth at the learner pool of my local swimming baths, I was promptly rebuked by the life guard. That, despite the fact that both of my twins could swim perfectly well, and had all the certificates and badges to prove it. Other pools ban backstroke on the off-chance that someone bumps their head, some schools ban football or even games of tag from their playgrounds for fear that the poor children get hit by a ball or run into each other.

At Center Parcs, there is certainly no shortage of lifeguards within the fabulous swimming complex. One of them jumped in while we were there to perform a rescue, and was backed up within seconds by a whole phalanx of others in case they were needed. But the difference is that these guys are not in your face the whole time. You can throw balls around – a strict no-no at pretty much any council-run place. You can take pictures of your kids. And you can splash them too. In our council-run pools, the idea of a children’s “fun swim” is to stick a few floats in the water, but the moment anyone dares to splash someone else they’re immediately brought to book by some interfering intermeddler. At Center Pars, the lifeguards jump in, fully clothed, and splash the kids themselves.

On our last night we went out for a meal at one of the many restaurants. This one had a play area, which included a ball pool. It was somewhere the children could go while we waited for the food to arrive, allowing them to let off steam and the parents to have some adult time together. When the meal came I went to retrieve our offspring. I was greeted by the wonderful sight of a full-scale ball fight, with kids throwing the hollow plastic balls at each other with as much force as they could muster. They’d arranged their own “teams”. Anyone who didn’t want to join in didn’t have to. But those that did were having the time of their lives. It was a sight that would have brought about near apoplexy in any council-supervised play area. It struck me that this was one of the few opportunities our children get for mass, unsupervised play. And a fine job they were making of it. There was no danger to anyone of anything approaching serious injury. The children had their own, unspoken rules; don’t throw a ball from too short a distance, and if you do then don’t aim at the face. Anyone who had got hurt would have had arms put round their shoulders and would have been looked after by their playmates until they felt better. No one needed the State to tell them how to have a good time in perfect safety.

The national obsession with Health & Safety is reaching ridiculous proportions. Center Parcs is a little haven from it. Long may it continue.

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