Service for a captive clientele

30th October 1998 at 00:00
Tour guide trainees at a Lincolnshire college have a historic venue in which to learn their trade. Kevin berry reports.

Who would be a holiday rep? Dealing with lager louts in Ibiza and the habitual complaining -known in the trade as the Anne Robinson Effect - would surely discourage many potential recruits.

But there are plenty of applicants for a new holiday reps' course at North Lincolnshire College - despite an unusual working environment. Students learn patience and the ability to flash a smile at the most trying members of the public in their very own jail and magistrates' court.

The college has bought Lincoln's Sessions House, a fascinating old building rich in history and hauntings, and the students are being trained - not to deal with yobboes locked up in Spanish cells - but to give the public guided tours.

The Sessions House is a 19th-century Grade 2 listed Georgian structure and its period courtroom is one of only two left in the country. Aside from the jail and court, it also housed the police house and fire station.

After a Pounds 2.5 million restoration it has now become part of North Lincolnshire College's campus, providing space for conference facilities, a student union, rehearsal rooms and offices.

Last year's leisure and tourism students spent some of their time dreaming up ways to market and publicise the Sessions House.

And this year, the holiday reps, dressed in neat blue uniforms, welcome visitors to the building and explain to tourists how the Sessions House was used and how it has been restored.

The underground cells, they say, are where the college's music students practice. They can bash away well out of earshot, because of the natural soundproofing.

Above them on the next level of cells the catering students, dressed as 19th-century waiters and wenches, serve the public in a restaurant and bar area. With dark irony the bar has been named the Last Drop and alert diners will notice, on the heavy cell doors, the flaps used to pass bread and water through to prisoners.

Part of the prison exercise yard is now the play area for the college's playschool.

The students have been researching the building's colourful past in the city's archives and welcome the opportunity to act as guides. "It will help our confidence and our communication skills," explained Katy Wressell. "We would hope that visitors would enjoy their tour and feel that they had learned something about Lincoln's past."

The holiday reps' course runs for two terms with a one-term work placement and can count towards a GNVQ in leisure and tourism. Students are astonishingly upbeat about the pitfalls of being a holiday rep.

"You have to remember," said Helen Barthorpe-Boham, "travelling to a resort can be very tiring and a holiday is one of the few occasions in the year when a family is all together throughout the day. It can be very trying for mum and dad in the first few days."

Perhaps those Lincoln cells could double as a child-free recuperation zone.

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