Set in 18 acres of private woodland just outside Newmarket, the Jarman Centre is used by Girlguiding and Scouting groups, other youth and community groups, schools and families.
It is also an ideal venue for outdoor team-building sessions for local companies.
Anytime Booking was approached just over a year ago to provide a booking management solution to support their varied residential and day bookings, as well as their bookable activities. We asked Patricia Acres, Treasurer for the Jarman Centre, to tell us about their decision to use Anytime Booking and their journey with us.
“The Jarman Centre is owned by the Girlguiding county of Cambridgeshire East, and is run by a small group of volunteers, responsible to our trustees.
We have been using Anytime for just over a year now. We were already using a computerised booking system, complete with an automated availability calendar on our website, which had served us well for several years, but as we grew busier and added more activities it was beginning to creak at the seams. More importantly, our volunteer who ran it on her computer was at the limit of the time she could devote to the centre’s administration and badly needed to be able to share the load. So when we began our search for a new system, we knew we needed a web-based system “in the cloud” that more than one person could access and work on. And we certainly wished to continue using an availability calendar so that groups wishing to book could sort out a possible date before contacting us. Our last non-negotiable requirement was a system of listing Task Reminders; if you are a volunteer snatching time around your real work to keep up with potential bookings, you have to be able to find immediately your note of what is most urgent to do next.
We tried out a couple of other systems and ran up against another snag: our mixture of residential bookings, day bookings and activities, coupled with the fact that our tariffs relate to who people are (our own members get preferential rates) rather than what they are booking or the time of year, produces a three-dimensional web of pricing that is perfectly clear to a human being but apparently always ties a computerised system in knots. In addition we know our member groups and they expect the personal touch. To get the complexity we needed, it looked as if we would have to go for one of the really big systems, which were beyond our reach financially.
We spoke to Anytime in the first place because their website advertised that they could cope with any form of booking. We gave them a bit of a run for their money – but they have made good their claims! We can combine residential bookings charged per head per night, with a day booking of a campsite charged per hour, with activity sessions charged per session, all on one bill. The main residential booking may be made up to 18 months in advance, and then activities added over the time; sizes of groups go up and down; the leader falls ill and someone else takes over – all that is coped with. It has been a little complex to set up, but now that is done it works very well.
Because most of the groups who book with us are charities which have to use double-signature cheque accounts and so cannot pay online, we decided for the moment not to have online booking and instead use the Enquiries system. An enquiry comes straight off the availability calendar with all the detail needed for us to put in a Provisional booking and is then confirmed by the deposit in the post. (Or people can pay by BACS if their banking arrangements allow it.) We can see straightaway on the Dashboard which bookings have not been confirmed. Importantly, Anytime tweaked the availability calendar widget for us, so that the difference also shows on the availability calendar. Now that groups know that their booking is vulnerable unless it has been confirmed, we have seen a perceptible improvement in deposits coming in promptly! And we are happy that when the situation changes re cheques – as it nearly did a couple of years ago – we can move to online booking with minimal effort.
Anytime also wrote the Task Reminders system for us: it’s simple but effective. A group may tell us when they book a year in advance that they will want an archery session, but that’s far too early to book an instructor. The system brings it back to our attention at the right time. We can see on the Dashboard as soon as we log in what needs to be done next. We paid a little extra for these tweaks, but the overall price was still very reasonable, and considerably less than we would have had to pay one of the big boys.
Yes, another volunteer came forward to share the administrative load, so that is the biggest difference that moving to Anytime has brought us. Fairly close behind is the use of the automated emails. Apart from acknowledging the Provisional booking, in itself a great time-saver as we used to have to type them individually, we use them for two main purposes. We send our Pre-arrival Information – vital when the booking may have been made so far in advance – 28 days before a group arrives without even having to remember to do it. And all our receipts also go automatically whenever a payment is recorded. This has reduced to almost zero the number of items we have to post, which is a good saving of both time and money.
So as a medium-sized Girlguiding-owned residential and activity centre, we are probably a rather different kind of animal from most of Anytime’s clients. But their system has proved flexible enough to cope with almost all our demands, and allows us to concentrate on providing a fun-filled and exciting time for all the young people who visit us.”
by Patricia Acres, Treasurer for the Jarman Centre