Success story Oban all hours

Oban, Scotland
Oban, Scotland
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GREAT Grandma Emma started it all almost a century ago with her tea-room gamble amid the bustle of Domine Lane in the heart of Rotherham’s Old Market.

It was 1914, on the face of it not the best of years to take a chance. Just how well it paid off can be seen today in the family dynasty which runs a multi-million pound, award-winning holiday centre near Oban, Argyle.

Certainly, the Tralee Bay Holidays location, based at Benderloch, is a world away from the Rotherham operation. But Emma, who was also involved with the delivery of babies around that area, was a battler. The gene lives on.

For starters, she changed the family name from Silcock to Shellcock and the business bug caught daughter Florence who with two children, Brian and Peter, set up a newsagents in 1959 in a Rotherham car park.

After training as a chef in the army then working in a Manchester restaurant, Brian and wife Pauline plus four children, David, Diana, Ian and Richard came over to the business which expanded into four premises over the next 20 years at the Rotherham bus station kiosk, Paperweight over the indoor market, Heskeths next to the old police station and Fredricks under the old Rotherham Advertiser buildings.

The home address was Lyndhurst, Moorgate Grove (which Brian built himself) and the children attended Broom Valley Junior School, Oakwood Comprehensive and Thomas Rotherham College.

As each became old enough, a natural progression was made into work via the newsagents. They didn’t stand still. The family opened one of the first one-hour developing and printing labs in the UK at Ashley Industrial Estate in 1982 followed by a second in the Hole-in-the-Road, Sheffield.

Amid the collapse of the steel and mining industries, the potential to expand vanished; Brian started to look further afield leaving the photo labs to David and Diana while Ian set off “on a fruitless mission to live by surfing around the Canaries.”

Oban came into play because of fond memories of family holidays sailing 12-foot dinghies around Oban Bay. Brian had a passion for sailing and was among the 1971 founders of the Ulley Sailing Club (home of current Laser sailor champion, Olympic gold medallist Sheffield-born Paul Goodison).

Three caravan park brochures caught their eye to plant the seed with sites in Oban plus the south coasts of England and Wales; all very run down, all needing years of TLC. Brian made a blind bid and within 24 hours received the call it was his. Now he had to find the cash!

They took the road north in 1983 with Florence, Brian, Pauline and Richard facing the unknown in the wilds of Argyll. Ten years on there were four generations living and working the site involving 14 family members.

Says Ian: “The complete change of lifestyle must have been testing for my parents. The park was bought for less than £100.000. The council were within a whisker of closing it down. When they first arrived at Tralee Bay they stayed in an old prefab at the back of the park and then spent the next five years or so living in caravans that were no longer fit for hire. Terrible at the time but still full of happy memories.

“The park has evolved over the last 25 years from a rundown centre taking tents and tourers to a five-star, award-winning success. From 30 non-graded units to 100-plus quality lodges and caravans across 27 acres.”

Today’s market value of the Shellcock investment? Around £5million.

When Brian, who died in 2000, made his move, the call went out to the family: “Get up here!” Diana saw the potential and with her then husband Chris Owen, set up their own business within the park as sail-makers, still going strong. Ian joined up next then David after selling the expanded photo business plus a large printing base. More recently, Richard and his Oban-born wife Laura decided to follow the Great Grandma Emma line and launched something that might have appealed to the family founder... a fish and chip shop in the park.

I gather there was some doubt about the venture but it has proved a mega hit.

What else is on offer? All ages are covered: putting green, fly fishing, children’s play area, nature walks, private slipway and moorings plus all-weather BBQ area overlooking the beach; ornamental pond with roach, koi and goldfish.

The park has won national titles including a David Bellamy conservation award and the fish and chips initiative is another award-winner with a menu that includes haggis and battered onions but so far no battered Mars Bars!

A short walk from the site you reach the Tralee Beach, a rarity given the lack of such stretches accessible to the public in the area.

The sandy beach skirts Ardmucknish Bay, ideal for family swimming parties if the weather is right, plus spectacular views of the Isle of Mull.

Remember, all bets are off in this quarter regards weather; while one spot in the Highlands can boast the hottest temperature in the UK another will record the coldest.

From Tralee the opportunities abound for the walker, angler, mountaineer, cyclist, photographer, wildlife enthusiast on land and sea; from Oban itself the iconic Caledonian MacBrayne red, white and black ferries run day trips west which include Mull, Iona, Staffa. Tobermory and Barra.

Ian Shellcock has no hesitation pointing to his parents’ driven nature by way of explaining the family success. “They were two of the hardest working individuals. Dad had an intolerance of the lazy. He inspired us to have a go, instilling a competitive attitude. We remain as driven to succeed, constantly aiming to improve facilities.

“Sometimes you might be caught outside working in a gale and it makes you wonder.

“Then when the weather turns, it’s the best spot in the world.”

Life is about to turn full circle; Ian’s Oban-born daughter Connie, 23, has finished her bio-medical science degree at Dundee University and Sheffield University may be next stop.

Is Great Grandma Emma celebrating over a cup of tea?