A personal appraisal by Jon Hartley, who spent almost 30 years with the company and for much of that time was the Hotel Contracts Manager for the UK Hotels
The history of the company has been well documented in several books, especially those published by Ian Allan including Wallace Arnold Days which provided a great insight into the company from its last Managing Director, Stephen Barber.
Rather than go through all of this again, I thought you might like to know what it was really like working for Wallace Arnold – so here is my little piece!
Joining as a driver in 1978 in Leeds you were almost in awe when you saw the number of people and tour drivers every weekend. As a new driver I had to start quite rightly learning my trade, and it was day excursions and private hire for the first year. Occasionally I would ‘double up’ with another driver on the longer trips, and this is where you learn how to deal with the great and good of the travelling public. Only 1% were, shall we say, a challenge, but the other 99% were wonderful. They arrived looking forward to a journey in safe hands, and with a company with a safety and reliability record to be envied.
To my mind a good coach driver is a defensive driver, who leads by example, and this thought was reinforced by an annual driving refresher course that every driver had to attend. This was no one day wonder, but a five day course with driving tests both practical and classroom, together with the latest updates on laws throughout the UK and Europe, and even microphone technique and first aid.
The strange thing is that you soon felt you were part of a family. The drivers and tour managers may have been the public face of WA, but the workshops, reservations, travel shops, product, and even accounts departments all worked as a team. A problem was never solely your own, it would be shared until cured, and it didn’t matter if you were based at Head Office in Leeds, the other major centres in Croydon and Torquay, or one of the twenty odd Travel Shops anywhere from Cardiff to Dundee, you were never just a number – you were a name, and treated with respect.
Take the workshops as an example, where the youngest mechanic had been there for over twenty years, and many of the others between thirty and forty. People joined the company, learned their trade, and never seemed to leave. This created an atmosphere not only of knowledge and professionalism, but also one of loyalty not only from your colleagues but from your suppliers too.
This was the base for the company. Not the Directors, not the main board that oversaw what was by then the Barr and Wallace Arnold Trust, but your day to day friends who together worked endlessly to produce multi award winning products.
Loyal as the team might have been, we would have been nothing without the support and loyalty of our clients, who returned year after year. They trusted the name of Wallace Arnold, and whilst the coaches may have disappeared the name hasn’t.
Homeland Tours became part of the Wallace Arnold family in 1947, and the Flin family continues that association to this day. Croydon can be proud of this local family who continue to provide the quality of professional service and knowledge rarely found elsewhere.
The old Head Office in Leeds has gone. Over two hundred jobs went with it, but other companies have benefited as the expertise gained by my old friends at WA are now scattered throughout the UK and beyond.
Scattered we may be, but every year we get together for a long weekend in Harrogate, which attracts 150 ex drivers and employees from as far afield as The Hebrides, Europe, and even San Francisco.
The name lives on, is still respected, and will remain emulated but perhaps never equalled.
– By Jon Hartley