Peak Gateway Leisure Club in Moor Lane, Ashbourne, continues to attract new businesses and visitors. Carolyn Bointon and went along to find out the secret of its success. Pictures: Geoff Merryweather.
IT'S come a long way since its former life as RAF Ashbourne's accommodation camp – but that doesn't mean managing director Bob Bowden is finished with the ongoing developments at Peak Gateway Leisure Club just yet.
Since he took over the site back in 2005, Bob, a chartered surveyor by trade, has watched as his vision has slowly come to fruition, turning what was previously a fairly run-down and shabby site into a successful and thriving family business.
The site is not just about camping and caravanning either – there is so much more to discover and enjoy there that Bob hopes will encourage Ashbourne people to head up and find out for themselves what it's all about.
We asked Bob to explain what it was about the area that appealed to him and drove his decision to set up his own business.
He said: "I knew instantly that this place had huge potential for development and improvement.
"I took over in January 2005 and our first project was to completely refurbish and update the bar and family room.
"I wanted the site to be a really family-friendly place and, for that, I realised it needed a decent central point for mums and dads to relax in and which offered something for the kids to do.
"It was a huge task. When we moved in, there was running water flowing through the old function room, and it needed completely gutting and starting again from scratch. So that's what we did.
"And, what's more, we finished in time for Easter of the same year, which is when we officially opened.
"We had a fantastic opening party – with live music and bands. Everyone enjoyed themselves, and that was really how we started."
The site is now home to both static and seasonal caravans, as well as two huge log cabins from Estonia.
It can cater for up to 250 units, including touring caravans and tents, at any time.
Bob explained that he had a vision for how the site should develop.
He said: "I knew we needed to be more than just a campsite – people are looking for more and more these days.
"So, in 2012, we started opening our showrooms, which we thought we be a great addition for guests, allowing them to really enjoy their time with us.
"To begin with, we had a geo-caching shop. It was all the rage then and everyone was getting into it, so it was really popular. We also had a fancy dress shop, which seemed to capture people's imaginations when they had parties to go to.
"These eventually made way for the showrooms we have today. Heidi was first to join us with Fashion for Eternity – a range of casual clothes that are reasonably priced and appeal to ladies of all ages.
"Then Tom came along and set up TBL Fitness. He offers one-to-one training as well as regular fun classes and training sessions. Laura joined us next with the Beauty Tree, with a full range of treatments, including facials and massages.
"Earlier this year, Jackie came on board with her dog grooming service, which has proved really popular, and we have the new dance school opening in May.
"We were really pleased that the Ashbourne tennis club relocated here, and the members seem really happy with their facilities here."
There are plans afoot now for Bob to create an associate membership, to allow families from the area to go along to use the facilities at the site, including the comfortable Outside In bar, which has an adjoining play room.
Bob said: "We want families to feel like this is a home from home – and to come along to relax and enjoy themselves.
"We already have a light and airy coffee lounge, with a book lending library, and the children's play area outside includes climbing frames and trampolines.
"It's the perfect place for people to relax while they are waiting for family who may be playing tennis, or learning to dance, or even joining in with some of the many activities we organise here for everyone at weekends.
"Basically, we have always wanted to do more with the whole community of Ashbourne, and we think we can do that now."
The site has its own bus service at weekends, offering free rides to and from town for guests, and it's through this that Bob has managed to raise more than £4,500 for Cancer Research UK.
Although the service is completely free of charge, users can leave a donation for the charity – a cause close to Bob's heart as family members have been affected by the disease.
It's a service that will no doubt prove even more popular as Bob has plans to make the Blenheim rooms available for private parties, weddings and christenings.
There is no doubt at all that Bob's personality and generous nature have made the Peak Gateway the success story it is. His ethos of "no problems, only solutions" is something that everyone on the park has totally bought into and he treats his staff as relatives. It's a big, happy family that visitors are encouraged to be part of, whether they stay for months, days or a few hours.
There are numerous events planned for Easter weekend at the Park Gateway. On Good Friday, there is a family quiz night and, the following day, families can enjoy kids' crafts, games, bingo and a disco.
There will also be an Easter parade, egg hunt and karaoke and disco on Sunday.