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Sheffield holiday park tycoon reveals ticket to success

Chief executive David Copley and wife Donna, financial director, at holiday park company Coppergreen.
Chief executive David Copley and wife Donna, financial director, at holiday park company Coppergreen.

The boss of a booming Sheffield holiday park firm, which has snapped up two sites for £25.3m, has revealed how his industry connections helped him buy prime land in a private sale.

David Copley, chief executive of Coppergreen, said he was put in touch with a farmer who wanted to sell a plot next to the entrance to Clumber Park, a popular National Trust site between Nottingham and Sheffield.

David Copley learned about the leisure trade in an earlier career at Arnold Laver.

David Copley learned about the leisure trade in an earlier career at Arnold Laver.

Now, it is being transformed into a holiday park with 129 lodges and a shop, gym, swimming pool and restaurant, creating 120 jobs.

In the same transaction the company bought Kenwick Park in the Lincolnshire Wolds, which has 90 lodges and a 34-room hotel and spa.

Coppergreen, which employs 300, also owns two other sites, in North Yorkshire and Scotland.

Mr Copley said their intention was to buy more sites as the ‘staycation’ market continues to boom.

David and Donna Copley say their lodges are a home-from-home for holidaymakers.

David and Donna Copley say their lodges are a home-from-home for holidaymakers.

He said: “We are always looking for new sites, with the help of our funders and using my knowledge and connections within the industry.”

The 66-year-old gained a background in the holiday market in an earlier career at Sheffield timber merchant Arnold Laver. Its subsidiary, Laver Leisure, at that time had 18 caravan parks between Skegness and Chapel St Leonards.

He added: “I started right at the bottom at Arnold Laver and ended up as executive director. It was the experience with the caravan parks that sent me down this track. When I decided to leave I started up with a computer in a bedroom.”

His first venture, Mbarkk, imported holiday lodges. It led on to the acquisition of 12 parks, with other funders, between 2012 and 2017, when they sold them off.

That’s when Coppergreen came into its own, he says. It bought Woodland Lakes holiday park in North Yorkshire just as the financial crisis hit in 2008 - and the ‘staycation’ market took off. Overseas terrorist incidents, unfavourable exchange rates and airport security regimes have also led to a drop in foreign travel.

And Coppergreen parks accept pets, David said.

“We are a nation of animal lovers, 25 per cent of customers want to bring their pets. We have also moved away from traditional caravan holidays to high quality lodges that are a home-from-home for a lot of people.”

The firm is a ‘specialist’ brand in the Hoseasons catalogue and works with the company on sales and marketing.

Today it operates at 90 per cent capacity all year and has been growing at 15 per cent a year for years.

Donna Copley, David’s wife, is financial director.

He added: “It’s a relationship that perhaps a lot of people couldn’t have but it works for us. Donna is extremely good at looking after the financial side. My strengths are operational, we work together very well.”

The pair are both Sheffield born and bred. They live in Wharncliffe Side while Coppergreen has an office in Deepcar in North Sheffield.

David added: “Key to the success of the business is our staff, it’s nothing without them.”

In the latest funding round the Business Growth Fund - run by a consortium of banks - invested £10m and HSBC provided £15.3m.

The BGF first invested in 2016, when it put in £11m.

Up until then they had been reinvesting profits and developing slowly, David said. The BGF funding paid for improvements including swimming pools and gyms at Piperdam and Woodland Lakes and “catapulted” growth.

The relationship began when Coppergreen approached Castle Square Corporate Finance in Sheffield to help it find a funding partner.

David added: “We spoke to a number of private equity houses. When we met the BGF we clicked straight away. It’s a partnership, you’ve got to be able to work with the people who are funding you.”