We spoke to Nicola Haynes, organiser for Theatre Trips Essex, to find out how she got involved with the group and where her love of the theatre comes from. 

How did the group start and why did you become its organiser?

My dad Ken started Theatre Trips Essex in 1975 to raise money for a swimming pool in my junior and infant school and it grew from there. It was more of a hobby for dad, where he would take people on coaches to the West End before venturing out on other day trips and then European visits. I’m the youngest of his three daughters so that’s all I’ve ever really known. When my mum Margaret died in 2017, he decided he didn’t want to do it anymore, but still had bookings for a trip he had organised to see 42nd Street in London. My sisters didn’t want to do it, and I thought ‘you must be joking!’, but I said I would help and run this one trip… and I’m still doing it more than six years later!

Nicola Haynes organises group visits for Theatre Trips Essex

Nicola’s group at a glance…

Group name: Theatre Trips Essex
No. of members: 10,000
Time organising: 6+ years
Based: Essex

What changes did you make to the group when you took over?

I brought it up to date. I created a Facebook group, followed by a website to keep people informed about what’s coming up. All bookings come through the website now which is nice and easy to follow. We try and do three theatre visits a week which means I am always very, very busy, but I absolutely love it.

Members of Theatre Trips Essex outside the London Palladium before a show

Members of Nicola’s group enjoy all sorts of visits, especially trips to the theatre.

How do you find the time for all the organising?

It’s my full-time role and my husband Neil works for me too. He tends to be on the coaches even more than me, but it’s nice for the groups to have a friendly host to speak to, especially if you get some of the lonely or more elderly guests join us for a trip. I like to make sure that they can come on the coach, and we stick with them, which is more of a bespoke thing I learned from my dad as he liked to look after everyone too.

“I love talking to different people to get the best prices. I am very much a people person which is what a good group organiser needs to be.”

What did you get up to with the group over Christmas?

We took two full coaches to Hever Castle and everybody absolutely loved it - one lady even sent me an email to say that it was the best Christmas dinner she had ever had! I love Hever at any time of year, but it was beautifully decorated for the season and I couldn’t recommend it more to others. Jenni there is amazing to work with too. We are already booked up for this Christmas, and I’ve also put in a booking for Hever in Bloom for the summer.

Hever Castle illuminated for Christmas

Source: Hever Castle & Gardens

The group loved visiting Hever Castle at Christmas.

What else have you got coming up in 2024?

I’m currently putting together a visit to see Strictly Come Dancing Live! at the O2 Arena, but we’ve also got Abba Voyage, Mamma Mia, Hamilton, Wicked and MJ in London all booked in. Away from theatre we have a trip to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, as well as two Jack the Ripper walking tours in Whitechapel, plus our annual break to Norfolk where we go on a huge paddleboat from Wroxham around the Broads. I’ve also booked up a short break to Stratford-upon-Avon for the first time this year as well as a trip to Highclere Castle and much more. I’m basically fully booked until January 2025.

It sounds jam-packed! What keeps you going?

It’s a bit of an adrenaline buzz I suppose, and I love talking to different people to get the best prices. I am very much a people person which is what a good group organiser needs to be. I might say to a ticketing agent that I need ‘x’ number of tickets to see a show, and if they put me at the back, I will always come back to them asking if they can do better than that – only the best for my members.

Elphaba in the touring production of Wicked

Source: Matt Crockett

Wicked is one of the many shows that the group will be seeing in 2024.

Where does that love of theatre come from?

I suppose it started because of my dad. I used to go along when I could to see some truly amazing performances as a youngster. It made me realise that musical theatre really is just something else. For me, you’ve got two and a half hours where you’re taken away from everything in the world to just watch someone perform which is absolutely wonderful.

What would you say is your most memorable trip?

I have two that spring to mind. I think the very first one I did when we got back from the pandemic was special. It was a day trip to Norfolk, and even though I had everyone in masks and socially distanced on the coach at half its capacity, it was great to be back. I definitely lost money on it, but it was such a relief to have that feeling of returning to visits. Last year we also went abroad to Calais and enjoyed lunch in a fantastic châteaux – dad was with us too so it made it even more special.

You must feel really proud to continue the group your father started?

Members of the Theatre Trips Essex group at Windsor Castle

Nicola’s dad Ken still enjoys a trip every now and again, including recently to Windsor Castle.

It’s a really good feeling and we even have a few originals who come along from when dad first started the group. My old Sunday school teacher still comes along who was part of the original group which is lovely to see. I think there is 12 of them in total which isn’t bad at all!

Would you like to tell us about your work as a group organiser? Get in touch by emailing editorial@groupleisureandtravel.com.