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Last Updated: Monday, 6 December, 2004, 07:09 GMT
End of an era at Barry Butlins
By Clare Gabriel
BBC Wales news website

Butlins Bluecoats performing circa 1995

The old Butlins at Barry Island - which said 'hi de hi' to thousands of holidaymakers in its heyday - is being pulled down.

Bulldozers started tearing down the prime site overlooking the Bristol Channel last week.

By Easter they will have razed to the ground the old Blue Lagoon swimming pool, the bars, theatres and canteen which have provided holiday entertainment for so many happy campers down the years.

Now what is left of the camp - the old World War II emergency army accommodation, which became the campers' chalets, were demolished in favour of private homes a decade ago - looks destined to be transformed into a tourism college.

Sir Billy Butlin allegedly had the idea for his holiday camps which provided the annual-two-week escape for so many in Britain through the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s after he stayed at a B&B at Barry Island.

The camp regularly entertained up to 7,000 holidaymakers a week, soaking up visitors looking for two weeks of entertainment from the south Wales valleys and beyond.

But the enthusiasm among some of those who worked there still remains high and a reunion for former Barry Butlins staff is being held next 5 November at Trecco Bay, in Porthcawl.

Barry Island beach
Holidaymakers packed Barry Island beach in the camp's heyday

"It's the last old fashioned holiday camp" said Simon Warry, himself a veteran of the ice cream parlour, and now organiser of next year's reunion.

"Theme parks are so commercial now."

Fellow Bluecoat Debbie Bunce remembers warmly the two April-to-October seasons she spent entertaining the families who flocked to the south Wales resort.

"It was just like a family. We got paid absolutely rubbish money - 92 a week - and worked 15 hours a day, but it was just so great."

She said she recently returned to look through the gates of the camp - it closed its doors in 1996 - with a teenager who she had looked after at the camp when she had holidayed there with her family.

"She just burst into tears - the memories meant so much to her," said Ms Bunce, who is now a student radio presenter.


John Cuddy, joint managing director of the Llandarcy-based company which is carrying out the demolition work, said the 380,000 contract, said "size wise it's not big for us".

"But this is a bit different. We rarely get the opportunity top demolish a leisure complex because most of them are so new."

Between 150 to 200 tonnes of asbestos have to be removed from site during the demolition which will have 25 workers involved at its peak.

"I think the main issue will be to prevent the public and those who have an interest in it from getting on the site" said Mr Cuddy.

The old chalet accommodation was demolished four or five years ago, he said, making way for houses with commanding views across the Channel.

Now the Vale of Glamorgan Council which owns the Barry Island Resort site is in talks to transform the rest of the site into a tourism and leisure management college, run by UWIC, the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff.

Mike Harvey, the council's cabinet member for economic regeneration, tourism and leisure, said UWIC was planning to relocate its existing college from Colchester Avenue, Cardiff in a 20m project.

"We are working with other partners, like the Welsh Development Agency in order that they can develop a college here."

However, Mr Harvey said the project still had a funding gap and if the college could not relocate to the old holiday camp site, the authority would have to investigate other options.

"We want employment here, that has always been our objective. But if we can't get it through a college we will have to look at other options".

But for now, as the bulldozers continue their destruction, it is the end of an era for Barry Island's Butlins.

In Pictures: Barry Island's Butlins
06 Dec 04 |  In Pictures
Holiday camp evacuated after fire
09 Sep 04 |  Southern Counties
Spirited away from carnival
26 Aug 04 |  London
Butlin's campers to learn online
21 Aug 03 |  Education

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