Coming home

Having worked in 25 clubs over 35 years, Sean Connolly could not be happier with club number 25, the brand new Club 3000 Bingo in Blackpool. This is the second ‘new’ club opening of Sean’s career, the first having been Hunts Cross Liverpool 25 years ago, and marks a homecoming for the Fleetwood boy, who was born at Glenroyd Maternity Hospital, just a few minutes away from the Blackpool club.

Growing up in Fleetwood, just along the coast from Blackpool, Sean’s family had no direct connection with bingo, other then relatives in Ireland who liked a game or two. Neither his father, a marine engineer for P&O, nor his mother, a book keeper, had ever played.

Sean’s first foray into the world of work was with Fine Fare Supermarkets in 1981, while attending 6th form college in Blackpool. With good grades he decided to study Geography at Staffordshire Polytechnic, now Staffordshire University, which also saw him work for Smiths Crisps, Pork Farms and a stint trying to sell double glazing.

With the end of his course approaching Sean decided to apply for a role with the Civil Service, specifically the now defunct Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS). “I was bored rigid” Sean commented. “I knew I needed to find something else, but the question was what?”

“I saw an advert in the Blackpool Evening Gazette for Trainee Managers for Coral Social Clubs, but realised I knew little if anything about bingo. I applied anyway and decided before my interview that I needed find out more. So, I paid a visit to the bingo club, which was located in the Coral Island Complex in Blackpool, on New Bonny Street. I was amazed how busy and exciting the atmosphere was!

“I was interviewed by HR Director Richard Colin, who offered me a role as a Trainee Manager at the Coral Social Club in Preston. I knew straight away that I had found my vocation.”

Like many who find their way into a career in bingo, the introduction may be by chance, but once involved it’s an active choice to stay.

Sean continued, “That was back in 1988, since when I have worked in 25 clubs including stints with with Gala (now Buzz) and Buckingham, which have taken me as far north as Aberdeen and as far south as Hove. I’ve worked in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Bradford and Stoke-on-Trent too.”

Married to Sara, with whom he has an 11 year old daughter Kitty, Sean also has two grown-up children Harry, who is studying at Newcastle University, and Louise, a midwife at Liverpool Women’s Hospital. A firm fan of not only bingo, but quizzes and pop music, Sean has appeared on Ken Bruce’s Popmaster eleven times, including two appearances on Champion’s League Popmaster.

For Sean bingo is not only a career and leisure activity, but since 2015 has also been a hobby, in the form of a Bingo Archive on Facebook, Bingo Photos Old & New.

“Bingo has a great history, the buildings, the characters (both sides of the book sales desk) and all the events and parties, and people. I realised that there was no central record of our community, which has changed so much, even since I joined. So, I started collecting pictures and asking colleagues for their old prints and digital images. Once I had set up the Facebook group it started to grow and of course the regular feature in Bingo Connect has not only allowed me to share old pictures and memories, but also encourage people to send pictures to me, via Facebook.”

The preparation for and launch of the new club in Blackpool, which opened on Saturday 1st July, has not left Sean with much downtime, let alone spare time, so playing bingo and digitising photographs has had to take a back seat.

Having invested £5 million in the building, Club 3000’s latest venue presents an innovative design and layout, that is already a hit with customers. The opening party was a headline grabbing night to remember, where over 800 customers were treated to a variety of entertainment, including magicians, entertainer Craig Harper and great bingo. Actors Joe Duttine and Sally Carman-Duttine, who play Tim Metcalfe and Abi Franklin in Coronation Street, performed the honours of cutting the ribbon.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the opening night. The key to it was all the preparation we did beforehand for it to run smoothly. My area Manager, Patrick Brignall, had produced some amazing graphics and we had rehearsed the ceremony at least 20 times in the run up to the opening. There was some amazing support from family and friends at the opening night and of course having some Coronation Street actors along made it more exciting for our customers. One former colleague said I looked very relaxed which I took as a compliment!

Sean continues “There is always pressure on you when a new club opens, as you want it to be a success not just for yourself and the team but also for the whole company. I was confident with the substantial investment in recruitment, training and marketing, and the experience we have in opening new clubs that it was always going to be a success.”

With a career spanning over 35 years this is not the first club that Sean had opened. Having launched Hunts Cross, Liverpool 25 years ago he knew exactly how demanding the task can be and was surprised that at 57 years of age Club 3000 Bingo founder Brian Fraser was not offering the role to someone younger.

“At the age of 57, I thought I may be a bit too old to take on such a challenge, but the company has gave me a fabulous support team, and Brian Fraser persuaded Mike Travis out of retirement to be my House Manager. His experience has been invaluable.

Knowing exactly how demanding opening a club can be and the ensuing pressure to then build the business is a role and task that many might shy away from. Preparation for a launch and the launch event is just the beginning.

“I took the position because I knew the potential that opening in a town like Blackpool offered. When I started in bingo there were nine bingo clubs on the Fylde Coast. When The Empire closed in 2020, this took the number of clubs in the area down to just two. From working all over the UK, I was aware just how many customers visit Blackpool and play bingo when they are here.

“There is a huge appetite for bingo and not just from those visiting. Whilst we’ve had a lot of visits from visiting customers, the majority of the custom is local from the Fylde coast. What has surprised me has been the amount of younger people attending at night, lots of who are new to club bingo, having either played online or at a nightclub type event.

“We have been open for thirteen weeks and already have a loyal, local customer base, whose ages range from 18 to 80. We are also seeing coach parties attend and groups of friends and work teams book in for parties.

The last four years have proved to be an extremely challenging trading environment for bingo, with a number of clubs closing. In contrast, Club 3000 Bingo continues to expand, with plans for further venues in the coming months.

“Bingo has a real future. The beauty of the game is its simplicity, it is a fun, exciting game within a safe environment and part of the local community.

“I think the key to Club 3000’s success is being simple and completely transparent in what we offer” Sean said. “We also want all our customers, regulars and new, to have a great night out and feel part of our community.

“We also invest heavily in our clubs and the facilities within them. In the last eight years over £15m has been invested in refurbishments alone, which excludes the investment in building and opening Blackpool. We are planning refurbs in our Mansfield and Old Trafford clubs in the next few months, alongside a £2M refurb in Cardiff starting next month and the refurbishment of our flagship club, in Coatbridge. And £5.5m on a brand new club in Edinburgh, opening next year.

“I love working for Club 3000. It’s bingo how it should be.”