His wife Jan had always wanted a tea shop, and the only problem, he said, was that this one came with its own harbour and canals and even a castle.
It’s been nine years since he first saw a sign for Bridlington’s Bondville in an estate agent’s window. He hadn’t been quite prepared, he admits, for the upkeep of a whole world in one-twelfth scale.
“Did I ever think I would run a model village? No, in a word,” said Mr Whitehead. “I wasn’t in the model market, I was in the motor trade.”
It’s been a steep learning curve, he said, to become skilled as a joiner and electrician and plumber and all round handy-person to manage its upkeep.
“The thing is, it’s not just about the miniature village,” he reflected. “There’s the gardens and all these flowers and lawns and the cricket pitch as well.
“I had no idea what we were getting into,” he added with a laugh. “It must be a vocation. I do like a challenge though, and by golly this has been one.”
Now, as a symbol of miniature Britain, Bondville Model Village sums up summer this year.
All the anticipation, then the rain, and now optimism on the horizon as clouds begin to clear. And behind the scenes, the endless hours of painting and preparing and tending to each tiny detail.
For hospitality businesses reopening along Yorkshire’s coast, this Bank Holiday weekend brings first promise of summer sun and a sense of anticipation for the season ahead.
There are signs of a brighter future. Mr Whitehead, having put the lease on the miniature village up for sale last year, is now hoping to buy the land outright.
In two short months last summer, he said, Bondville saw a much higher footfall than in previous years, as visitors turned to more traditional leisure pursuits. Now he is anticipating a booming summer for Yorkshire’s coastal resorts.
“People are looking for something different,” he said. “We’re looking at visitors that have never been before, and from different parts of the country.
“It’s a generation thing, I think,” he said. “There are all these different attractions, but this is the only model village in Yorkshire’s neck of the woods.
“People like things in miniature,” he added. “It’s the novelty, isn’t it, to see something so bespoke and handmade.”
At Bondville there are 200 buildings, all in miniature. In addition to the castle, there are three pubs, an abbey, and three churches. It’s quite religious for a village, ponders Mr Whitehead.
Then there’s the harbour with boats, a waterfall and canal. Most tricky to prepare are the 900 figures, from cars to boats, with each needing to be hand painted.
It takes two months just to prepare the gardens, with every bush pruned to replicate a miniature tree and the hazards of scale to think about in lawn care.
“I probably have to make 20 to 30 doors every year,” said Mr Whitehead. “All the buildings are bespoke, it’s not like you can make a conveyor belt for doors, they won’t fit.
“People say it must be marvellous, to shut in September and have six months off... it never stops.
“It’s very easy to close a business, but there’s a lot more to reopening it.”
First developed in 1987, Bondville Model Village took nearly two years to build, complete with tea shop and miniature railway, and is now listed among Bridlington’s best attractions.
But contractually, anything that sits on this leased land belongs to Hull City Council after 20 years, so the family has submitted independent valuations in the hopes of buying the site outright.
“It’s just one of those nice family things,” said Mr Whitehead, who has an eye on refreshing attractions to attract return visitors.
“I hope there will be a deluge, and that visitors then tell all their friends. For somewhere like Bridlington, it can be a big asset.”
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