Lucky break that launched Hopton’s Potters Leisure Resort 100 years ago
PUBLISHED: 06:30 15 July 2013 | UPDATED: 09:18 15 July 2013
It is a business at the forefront of the region’s tourism industry employing more than 500 members of staff with a £22m turnover.
However, the success story of Potter’s Leisure Resort, today home to the World Indoor Bowls Championship and a luxury holiday village offering West End class entertainment, all began with an amazing piece of good fortune.
On Friday, Brian Potter and his family will be toasting the centenary of ‘Grandpa Potter’s’ lucky break when he won £500 in a word puzzle competition run by the former Sunday Chronicle.
The prize was wisely saved by Herbert Edward Potter, a lowly paid solicitor’s clerk from Norwich, before he was called up to fight in the first world war.
At the end of the conflict, after surviving the horrors of the Battle of the Somme, he used his windfall to buy a field at Hemsby, near Great Yarmouth, and start one of the country’s first holiday camps.
Mr Potter, 72, who has been made an MBE for services to tourism, said: “Grandpa Potter had been to Caister holiday camp, the very first one in the country, and loved the camaraderie, the cooking around campfires, picking vegetables in the fields and making your own entertainment and fun.
“That gave him the idea of starting his own on what is now the derelict Pontin’s site.
“Holidays were simple, good wholesome fun based around what was no more than a collection of huts.”
In a beautifully handwritten family log, today cherished by his grandson, Grandpa Potter recounts a succession of legal wrangles that led him first to buy a new site in the village and then to leave behind the “unfriendly atmosphere in Hemsby” and start again along the coast in Hopton.
Mr Potter said: “He started with a camp in Hopton village but when competition from other camps sprung up he thought he should purchase a prime site right on the coast.”
It was in 1934 that he bought a cabbage field from the Colman family and started a camp on the present-day Potter’s site.
To begin with, the camp comprised timber huts with gas lamps, a restaurant where guests had their three meals and afternoon tea and a games room - all for £2.50 a week.
He said: “In those days, there was little competition. People were not flying abroad for cheap package holidays and only the privileged few had cars.
“There were no toilets or running water in the chalets, but queuing at the standpipe for your water was all part of the fun.”
At the time Brian Potter’s father Hector took over running the business, the simple holiday formula remained much the same.
Mr Potter, who joined the family business in 1962 and two years later married Judy Bishop, whose family ran Hemsby’s Seacroft holiday camp, said: “In 1958 the addition of an unheated, outdoor swimming pool had been seen as very avant-garde.
“During the 1960s, the original timber chalets were gradually being replaced by brick-built bungalows, but guest facilities were still restricted to a ballroom, bar and dining room.
“The holiday experience was still all about making your own entertainment and relying on the talents of the people we had staying here.
“We always found someone to play the piano - and they got free beer for the week.”
The holiday revolution really began when Mr Potter took over the reins in 1984 after the death of his father.
The season was still only 18 weeks long and he looked for ways to make Potters an all-year destination by giving guests more things to do.
He said: “When I had explained my vision to my father, he said, ‘you mad boy, who are you going to get to come to the chilly East coast when the wind is blowing up the chalet lines’. I said that is my challenge.”
What he describes as his ‘Archimedes moment’ came while shaving when he realised indoor bowls might be the perfect attraction to woo retired people.
He was soon investing in more rinks and in 1998 opened an international standard bowls stadium, at a cost of £2.5m, which the following year became the venue for the World Indoor Bowls Championships.
Reeling off further major investments in the world class Atlas Theatre, accommodation upgrades, and a host of new leisure facilities, Mr Potter calculated that £49m has been spent since 1988.
It is now a five star holiday village offering 250,000 bed nights a year, serving 16,000 meals a week and spending £27,000 a week on entertainment.
But Mr Potter said the story would continue to evolve now his son John had taken over as managing director.
He said: “John is the fourth generation and each generation looks to make their own impression.”
Their vision for future multi-million pound investments included new hotel accommodation, a new arena “to attract the bigger names in entertainment”, extra sporting facilities and perhaps an additional spa.