With bingo halls expected to reopen in just over a month's time, BingoDaily wants to shine a light on some of the people behind the scenes from the wonderful UK bingo community. Having spoken to Mecca Bingo's community manager and enjoyed a candid interview with Mecca's Retail MD, this week, it is the turn of Jimmy Davis, the affable and popular manager at Mecca Bingo Sittingbourne to sit with BingoDaily.
BD – Hello Jimmy, nice to meet you and thank you for speaking to us. Can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m Jimmy Davis, Originally from Hull. I moved south approximately 10 years ago to be part of the team that opened Mecca Thanet. I settled in Kent and still live there. I am now married, we haven’t started a traditional family yet but we have 2 naughty dogs that keep us occupied. I started my career in Mecca up in Hull, my Auntie (who is still an Operations Manager in the club) had suggested I should apply for a position. That was nearly 20 years ago!
BD – Tell us about your job, what you do, your responsibilities, how long you’ve been in the position/with Mecca Sittingbourne
My position at Mecca Sittingbourne is General Manager. I have sole responsibility for the club and my aim is to be an inspiring and engaging leader in an ever-evolving workplace. It’s a challenging position. The business is multi-faceted and therefore is always keeping my team and me on our toes. We also focus on our local communities and building relationships with local businesses including support for local charities with national and more localised campaigns such as our recently successful Easter Egg Charity donation initiative.
BD – When and where was the first time you played bingo?
I worked in Bingo long before I played it. When I did go and play it was with a bunch of work colleagues so a thorough busman’s holiday.
BD – Mecca Sittingbourne is located within a beautiful old building. What’s the history of the club?
For many years it was a cinema, it had changed operator hands a few times before changing entirely. My Office controller was telling me today she went to watch Alien there in 1979. There is now a small independent cinema that operates on the upper tier of the property split.
BD – Talk us through 2020 for Mecca Sittingbourne, a difficult year for the UK land-based bingo scene. How has Mecca Sittingbourne been affected by the lockdowns and maintained engagement with its loyal customer base?
2020 has had its challenges but I couldn’t pin anything that has been of particular difficulty for us alone. In fact, despite its challenges, it has shone a very positive light on my team. All the things we could affect we did so with energy and optimism and the customers that felt safe enough to join us whilst we were briefly opened, certainly felt that positivity. Since we re-entered lockdown maintaining customer relations has continued. We have been making weekly phone calls to check in with a range of customers, celebrating birthdays with again a phone call or if it was a particularly special “milestone” birthday we have delivered gifts to add a special element to a lockdown birthday.
BD – We have seen a number of bingo halls close over the last twelve months, many of which in older buildings like yourselves. Has there been a fear of “we’re next” at that time?
I don’t think it’s healthy to live in the possibility of negativity mindset, and neither does my team. We are still operating now and whilst that continues, we will continue to make the experiences the best we can for our colleagues and customers to be part of.
How Much Prize Money Given Out????
BD – In your time at Mecca Sittingbourne, how much money do you think your club has handed out?
We may need to call in Vorderman for an accurate figure! I have been there for 3 years and we have had lots of wins both internally and through linked games – the archives tell me it's £3.7m. Just as I had joined the club, we had a jackpot winner on the National Bingo Game of over £100,00 so that was a good start. Looking back, over the past 10 years, we’ve given away nearly £8m, and since we opened in 1973, over £28m!
BD – Are there any memorable winners or personal stories you can share?
I think for anyone who has been to play Bingo the feeling of winning is memorable every time. Seeing customers win jackpot games is always nice but small wins bring just as wide smiles.
BD – Assuming you are reopening on May 17th, what can visitors expect at Mecca Sittingbourne, and do you think the number of visitors will increase or decrease upon reopening?
The number of visitors is hard to predict, the aim is always an increase, I wouldn’t want to cap that with a particular figure because it’s about providing a fun, safe, social environment for as many people as we can. I think the development of a vaccine coming out of lockdown this time is a game-changer. The vaccine will give people the confidence to leave the house and start to actively socialise again. Our operation will instill the confidence that we are a safe destination to visit regularly. We will continue with our high standards around social distancing, contactless interactions, and cleanliness. Also delivering our core Bingo product which our customers know and love, but there are some other exciting developments on the horizon for Mecca Bingo that provide a fulfilling experience for both seasoned and debutant players.
BD – It's Mecca Bingo’s 60th birthday this year, can you share some of Mecca Bingo Sittingbourne’s plans to celebrate?
Specifics of a day still have to rest in the planning stage as we continue to consider the national restrictions in place and how that will look ongoing. We are hoping live entertainment events will be back sooner rather than later and that coupled with some of the exciting new game format there is a lot to look forward to!
BD – Finally, from your perspective, what do see happening to the UK bingo scene over the next year and beyond?
I can’t speak for other operators but for Mecca, it’s shaping up to be an exciting time. I am seeing lots of activity around developing our existing product and integrating it with new concepts and new ideas to build a Mecca of the future. Evolution for any business is key and at Mecca Bingo it’s in progress.
BD – Thank you very much Jimmy and good luck on reopening!