A Super Saturday of Sport and a Thorpe Park Reunion

So this past weekend was exactly the kind of event that I really wanted to get involved in.  But as it turned out, I actually got involved in another event completely which while great fun, I’m not sure played a massive part in my change of career plan!

The Super Saturday of Sport event in Chiswick was something that my ex manager Cath suggested I get involved with when I told her what my plans were on leaving SAP, as she had been with her kids in previous years and they had loved it. It’s a free event where kids can try out over forty different activities and sports in one day including netball, rugby, yoga etc.. Unfortunately it clashed with a reunion of people I used to work with at Thorpe Park many years ago – more about that in a moment – but I’m really looking forward to volunteering at the second date they have put on this year over in Feltham on the 22nd August – so hopefully if you’re still reading this blog in a month or so you can read all about it then.  Better still, if you’re in the area, why not come along and get involved?  Details can be found here:

So, my reunion with old friends back at Thorpe Park and how on earth can I link that to wanting to have a career where I’m working with kids and charities etc?  One of the things I really enjoy about my current role is the opportunity I get to do a bit of writing and I love the challenge of getting a brief from someone and then trying to be creative about turning that into an article that people will actually enjoy reading. So here goes..

For those of you that don’t really know about it, Thorpe Park is a theme park in Surrey near where I grew up.  Both my brother and sister worked there before me and when I was 16 it was the only place I wanted to work for a seasonal job as I went through college, gap year and university. And as it turned out, post university, first real job and even a bonus summer season a few years later on. For many people, Thorpe Park was much more than just a job, it really became a way of life for the summer.  These were the people you worked with, played with and in many cases lived with and spent rest of lives with! This last weekend after months of planning about fifty of us ‘ex Thorpies’ all got together for a reunion, a few beers and a nostalgic stroll around the old place.  Some of us hadn’t been back to the park in over twenty years and it’s far to say that it has changed massively since the majority of us worked there. What was once a family water park, populated by cuddly animal characters, gentle family rides and promising a ‘fortnight’s fun in one’ is now a modern thrills theme park with huge roller coasters all over the place.  I can certainly recommend a ride on Stealth that goes from 0-80 mph in about two and a half seconds as an amazing adrenaline boost on a Saturday afternoon!

Obviously there was much reminiscing about days working in the park but one of the most vivid memories for me wasn’t really to do with with friends. As we walked past Thunder River (sadly renamed to Ribena Rumba Rapids in recent years!) I was reminded of the days when you’d get a message from the Admissions Teams or someone in the car park that about 50 taxis had arrived in the car park festooned with balloons. This happened a couple of times a year and in my memory we received no prior warning but it was something that these taxi drivers would organise where they would give up their day to bring groups of children with physical disabilities or learning difficulties into the park and give them a day out.  Was it connected to the Variety Club? Possibly… I worked in the Rides department as a supervisor in those days and one of our responsibilities other than walking around carrying a radio and looking cool was to help the ride operators get groups of visitors on and off the rides if there were large groups, people with disabilities etc.

I remember this one particular day vividly. Most of the rides were fairly easy to get people onto.  They had separate entrances or gates where you could get someone right up to the car/boat/seat, stop the ride and get them on or off.  Not Thunder River.  To get someone in a wheelchair on the ride, you had to take them out of the chair, carry them up and down about fifteen steps, then walk about 40 metres through the exit area of the ride to avoid pushing through the people queuing, go down five more steps onto a moving platform and have about 20 seconds to lower them into a boat before it disappeared around the ride. Now I’m sure Health & Safety said you shouldn’t do this. I’m pretty sure when asked, we could have said no and pointed them towards an easier ride but I don’t think we ever did.  And why would you when you saw how much enjoyment these kids got out of it?

On this particular day I seem to recall spending hours on end carrying these kids with either their helpers or with another member of staff up to the ride and back down again and every time we got back to the entrance, there were another group there asking if they could go on.  It got to the point where your arms were so tired, they wouldn’t stay by your sides, they just kept rising because there was no weight holding them down. It was hard work but wow, did you feel good to see so many people laughing and smiling and having a great time.  We even let them go round twice which broke all the rules, but that was mainly because we were trying to give our arms a bit of a rest!

You genuinely  learnt so much working at a place like Thorpe Park. You dealt with the public on a daily basis, you were handed responsibility for managing people at a young age and you played a small part sometimes in giving people a brilliant day out. I know I look back at my time at Thorpe Park with rose tinted glasses. I’m sure there were days when you worked on your own outside in the rain all day and trudged for miles without a break going nowhere on a slowly turning platform. Or you were shouted at by angry parents because you had ruined their child’s day by not letting them on a ride they were clearly too small to go on. But that’s not what I remember. I remember making lots of good friends over the years, some I remember well and see regularly and others I struggle to remember the names of – but meeting up with them this weekend was genuinely one of the best weekends I’ve had in years. And I remember days like the one above, where you could easily have said no, sorry we can’t help you, but instead you decided to go that extra mile and try and give someone who really deserved it, a brilliant day out. Even if your arms ached so much at the end of it you can barely lift your pint to your mouth.

Anyway, I can’t wait to be involved in a Super Saturday of Sport in Feltham on Aug 22nd, hopefully helping out there will bring back more memories of the some of the great experiences I had back at Thorpe Park in the 90s and who knows, maybe even lead on to the start of something new.  Two weeks into my ‘journey’ (that’s for you sis..) and no one has actually offered me a job yet, terrible….

One thought on “A Super Saturday of Sport and a Thorpe Park Reunion

  1. Rob, that is a fantastic write-up about what Thorpe park used to be like we, the staff, definitely did go that extra mile and didn’t think about health and safety. A fantastic reunion, sharing great memories with incredible people which you described perfectly.
    Fingers crossed for your job offer!


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