Fun, laughter, and brightening people’s lives
Date Posted: 09/03/2012
Day trips, seaside excursions, UK short breaks, cruising, and European holidays; GTO for Benhill Social Club, Gwen Turner’s trips are many and varied.
Group name: Benhill Social Club
Number of members: 260
Length of time organising: 18 years
Based in: Sutton, London
Favourite destination: Israel
Gwen’s top GTO tips:
• Do your homework before you go
• Stipulate a pay-by date
Group Leisure: Hi Gwen, could you start by introducing your group, and explain how your role as an organiser came about?
Gwen: My group is for the over 55s really, but they’re mainly in their 70s, 80s with a few in their 90s. I’ve been organising now coming up to 18 years. I started up a residents association on the estate where I live, and I used to deal a lot with the children, taking them out on trips, games and things like that. So I was the social secretary for that, and it just grew. We started playing bingo about 17 years ago, and from then on I started doing trips. The trips and holidays have really taken off in the last 12 years.
Group Leisure: So how many trips do you manage to get away on each year?
Gwen: Well last year we did 33 day trips and seven holidays and short breaks. It’s generally a couple abroad and the rest short breaks in the UK. Last year we went to Cyprus, Bristol & Bath, Liverpool and Austria. This year we’re going to the Isle of Wight, an Amsterdam cruise, north Yorkshire, the Amalfi Coast, Scotland, and then Cricket St Thomas in November. I quite often do a three-night mystery tour in this country because they like that.
Group Leisure: Sounds exciting, tell me more about these mystery trips...
Gwen: We’ve got one coming up in March and that’s a country mystery trip. I do my homework to find some interesting places to go, and we’ll probably have a couple of stops, and then finish up with a cream tea. The London Mystery Day is just one day because we’re not far from London. The last one I did was to the V&A Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green - that’s really interesting and nobody had been there before. Then we went to Little Venice, got on the boat and went to Camden Market and back.
Group Leisure: Your group obviously has a lot of faith in you to sign up to your mystery trips?
Gwen: Oh yes! I’ve no trouble filling my coaches at all. In fact, when I did the three-night trip down to Warner’s Cricket St Thomas, I put it out at 11am on e-mail, went to the bingo session in the afternoon, and by 2.30pm the coach was full.
They fly out the window actually because I try and keep the prices as low as possible. There’s no profit made from the coach trips or holidays at all, and it’s so people are able to afford it.
We have a 53-seat coach for day trips, and I quote the price on 50 people and I also include the driver’s tip. If by any chance I am under subscribed - which is not very often - then I can’t include the driver’s tip, and they understand that.
Group Leisure: What kinds of destinations and attractions tend to be most popular for your UK day trips?
Gwen: They like going on the river, and they like trains as well. Our seaside trips are always popular, and we do quite a lot of theatre shows. I do my bookings through Encore, and also Ambassador Theatre Group who deal with New Wimbledon Theatre which is quite close to us.
Group Leisure: Is there a membership fee to join the club, and are you able to subsidise any trips with this?
Gwen: Subscriptions throughout the year is £11 for membership, and £13 if they want to come to bingo as well. It’s £2 extra, but that £2 mounts up and that’s where the profit comes from, which is how I’m able to subsidise these trips. In the summer holidays we go to the seaside and all they have to pay is £3 a time as it’s subsidised by the club, and in February we have our annual members’ party where they get their fish & chips, their wine, and their raffle and entertainment for just £3.
Group Leisure: How do you come up with new ideas for trips and holidays?
Gwen: It’s basically from places that my husband and I have visited in the past, and also through magazines, like Group Leisure.
Group Leisure: Have you been on any personal or family holidays where you’d like to take your group?
Gwen: I would have loved to have taken them to Israel, but because of the problems out there at the moment it’s not viable to take them there. Myself and my husband have been there twice and we really loved it. I had the Holy Land tour the first week which went to all the biblical sites, and then the second week we went to Eilat to relax.
Group Leisure: How do you plan your trip or holiday itineraries, or do you leave this to the tour operator?
Gwen: I book generally with Travelsphere - they’re very good, I’ve got a great rapport with them and I know Glen and Rebecca, so I’ll go with their itinerary normally. Basically I leave it to the companies and their itineraries. I get the brochures and I just pick a few, then to see what the favourites are I’ll put it to my group, and generally whatever I suggest, they go with (laughs).
Group Leisure: Are there any other suppliers or operators you would single out for recommendation?
The coach company I use regularly is Banstead Coaches. My driver is Mick, and the reason I like Banstead Coaches is because their coaches are always well maintained and the drivers know us. They’re always very obliging and they know our various pick-ups.
Group Leisure: What challenges have you come across in your role as a GTO?
Gwen: On the whole I don’t have too many problems I must be honest. One of my gripes is if we’re going out as a group for a meal, they do tend to cramp you together and you haven’t got a lot of room for manoeuvring. If you’re sitting down to enjoy a meal you want to relax.
Group Leisure: What’s the best thing about being a group organiser?
Gwen: I get some really lovely letters from people, because they’re so grateful. A lot of my people are widows, so they’re on their own and just glad of the chance to go out and mix with other people, have a meal with other people, and generally have a laugh. That’s what the club is all about - there’s a lot of fun and laughter. Brightening people’s lives - that’s what I love to do.
Gwen’s travel essentials:
• Mobile phone
• My member’s book
• Travel pills - just in case!