Butlin's has pulled down some of its old chalets and replaced them with accommodation that has the look and feel of an upmarket housing estate / Simon Calder

Exclusive: Revamped design has echoes of Sir Billy Butlin's original concept

Canadian geese carve elegant ripples across a lake that mirrors the might of Exmoor. The shore is flanked with a cluster of brand-new villas, whose wood facades are decorated in pastel shades of lilac and tangerine. Inside, high-spec furnishings are augmented by art that harks back to the Thirties. At its Minehead holiday park, Butlin’s is going back to the future.

The octogenarian family-holiday firm has pulled down some of its old barracks-style chalets and replaced them with accommodation that has the look and feel of an upmarket housing estate - not to mention close similarities to the latest Center Parcs venue in Bedfordshire.

Butlin’s is launching its new look. In a £16m makeover, 117 properties sleeping four, six or eight people have been created - with room for more, if the move proves popular.

The design has echoes of Sir Billy Butlin's original concept. The entrepreneur, whose first camp opened in Skegness in 1936, prescribed chalets in their own grounds surrounded by flower-filled gardens.


The first Butlin's camp opened in Skegness in 1936 (Hulton/Getty)

The blocks are named after the original “houses” at Butlin’s, such as Windsor, Tara and York, which were used to provide a tribal backdrop to seaside holidays.

Framed prints of vintage Butlin's advertisements adorn the walls of the new chalets. After consulting Mumsnet, the designers decided against installing televisions in children’s rooms, though free Wi-Fi is available throughout.

The structures stand alongside chalets erected half a century ago, which at a time represented the height of holiday luxury at the newest Butlin's camp. When the holiday park is full, only one in 10 of the 6,000-plus guests will be staying in the new accommodation - though everyone is welcome to peek. The chalets are not fenced off from the rest of the site.

All guests get free access to the “Skyline” complex at the heart of the park, location for traditional rides and attractions such as a helter-skelter and chair-o-plane. Holidaymakers are protected from a pummelling by the Bristol Channel, just across the road, by a large tent resembling offcuts from the Millennium Dome.

Butlin's managing director, Dermot King, said: “Modern consumers have experienced lots of different types of holiday offers and have become more used to better standards.”

Blocks are named after the original 'houses' at Butlin’s (Simon Calder)

Minehead, like the other surviving Butlin's venues of Skegness and Bognor Regis, has seen better days. But Mr King rejected the suggestion that the move would take business away from hard-pressed hoteliers:

“If you create something that’s a big enough draw you’re going to have more tourists spending their hard-earned savings, and as the local economy grows that will feed into local B&Bs and hotels.”

John Worthington, senior analyst at Mintel, said: “Butlin’s has to modernise to remain competitive. Holidaymakers today expect a much higher standard of accommodation, facilities and live entertainment. But the Butlin’s brand is happy to trade on some of the nostalgic ‘golden age of the British seaside holiday’ elements.”

In November, Butlin’s will reach back to the Nineties, with the Shiiine On Weekender featuring veteran bands such as the Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and the Wonder Stuff.

To seal the connections with the past, steam-hauled trains on the West Somerset Railway shuttle back and forth just beyond the new chalets. But unlike in 1962, when Butlin's opened its Minehead property, the line is disconnected from the national rail network.