Tony Stead, Our Head Warden
There’s a good chance you’ll meet Tony during a stay at Old Oaks. Now in his 15th season, he works alongside his wife, Debbie, who’s also a warden. As Tony’s been our key ‘frontman’ for so many years, we thought you might like to know a bit more about him.
The first things you’ll notice about Tony are his friendly smile, distinctive voice and sense of humour. So we asked him about where he’s from, what it’s like being a warden and why he loves it so much.
Tony, you’re obviously very Welsh! Can you tell us where you’re from and what you were doing previously?
I’m from a village called Tonyrefail, about 20 miles from Cardiff and not far from the Royal Mint at Llantrisant.
My trade is a monumental mason! I used to do marble fireplaces, and granite kitchen tops as well as memorials. Then I went on the buses as a coach and bus driver. I’d get on with the passengers and I’d be singing away. They’d never known a singing bus driver!
We used to have a motor home and we loved being in the van. Eventually, one day I came home from work and said to Debbie ‘I’ve found somewhere to have an interview, how do you fancy semi-retiring?”
We came for an interview at the Old Oaks and then, as we were touring round Devon, we got the call for a second interview. That was it. We put our house on the market, came here and haven’t looked back.
Debbie was a doctor’s receptionist. It was a big move for her coming to Old Oaks; leaving family, selling the house and taking a chance.
What’s your typical day like here at Old Oaks?
It’s very varied. I usually start at 8am, working in the shop as well as reception, taking bookings, answering the phone, helping guests who pop in, and showing people to pitches.
The role has changed a lot over the years, but we find that because we work as a couple, it works well. One might be in the shop, the other can answer the phone. Occasionally I’ll do some watering, cleaning or help someone with their electric or something on the pitch – or even problems with their van. It’s all customer based.
This year we’re doing three days on and three days off alternately with the other warden couple, Paul and Michele.
It’s a full day. We finish around 7.15pm to 7.30pm depending on whether there are late arrivals or we’re waiting for the takeaway to come in. We prepare dinner before we go to work as we do eat quite late. We now close reception and the shop from 12pm to 12.30pm so we get a chance to have a cuppa and a breather at lunchtime.
We’re also on call for three nights, but we’re very lucky here, as we don’t get called out for many incidents.
Have you seen Old Oaks change over the years?
The site has improved so much as it’s developed to suit the modern and more discerning tourers. It’s evolved with the times and got a whole lot busier.
This season (2021) has certainly been one of the busiest. Lots of people comment on how nice it is to be back and to be able to use their vans again, after the events of 2020.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
I love the interaction with the customers. We’re friendly with them. The customers that come back regularly know that I’m going to wind them up! They like the fact that they can have a laugh.
We’ve become friends with a lot of the customers. They know us and we know them, so they feel confident in coming to us if they want anything.
Definitely the favourite thing for me is getting to meet people every day, talking to them and helping them enjoy their holiday.
Do you get holidays or time off?
We’ve bought a little camper and we plan to use that regularly. It’s nice to enjoy your time off and do your own thing.
Because we have a good team, we can relax on our days off, knowing that the customers won’t lose out and that when you turn up for the next shift everything’s going to be straightforward.
We have winters off when the park is closed, and we go down to Spain. We spend time in Wales with the family over Christmas, and then go back to Spain in the new year. That part of the job is a big draw. It’s a perfect way of life for us.
Where do you live on site?
We live in our caravan in the Orchard area. We’ve got our own pitch but it isn’t fenced off and it has a sign saying ‘Wardens’ so people know where to come.
If we don’t fancy going anywhere we’ve got a nice area to sit out. Everyone is so friendly. A lot of guests know us and know where we are if they’ve got any problems.
Have you had any memorable experiences as a warden?
The night one of the ancient oak trees, Gog, caught fire. I was on call that night. One of the guests came running over and at first I thought it was one of our shepherd huts on fire!
That was a terrible night. The trees were thought to be 1,000 years old and are a big landmark in Glastonbury. Some worship them like mystical gods, and someone had left ribbons and a lit candle in the tree.
We’ve had plenty of funny incidents too with people forgetting things. Once I caught someone climbing in his caravan window because he’d forgotten his keys! Thankfully, we rarely have any sort of crime here.
What’s most important about being a warden?
You must be a people person. It’s not for everyone. You’ve got to remember that when you’re here, you are the face of the park, whether you’re on or off duty. That’s part of the job.
The Old Oaks team is great because everyone knows what they’re doing. If anyone is ever in need of anything, I’ve never known anyone say they can’t help. It’s a bit like a family.
Everyone’s like minded and wanting the same out of life. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not a nine to five, it’s a way of life. And it’s a good way of life if you embrace it.
Big thanks to our wonderful team member and family friend of 15 years! You’re loved and cherished by the whole White family and so many of our guests. You’re the best Tony Stead x