LAST month the country woke to the news that the global travel group Thomas Cook had ceased trading.

The collapse saw thousands of people lose their jobs but around three weeks later the entire chain of shops were bought out by Hays Travel, giving a lifeline to those who had lost their jobs.

For staff at Thomas Cook’s Whitchurch branch, the experience has been a rollercoaster of emotions.

Like many, branch manager Rachael Hall was unaware of the firm’s impending collapse.

“We were still booking holidays on the Saturday because we were being told that it’s fine, it’ll blow over and to carry on as normal,” said Rachel.

“We found out with the rest of the world that we’d all lost our jobs.

“When it came on the news, various Whatsapp groups and things like that, I don’t think anyone went to bed that evening at all.

“We then were asked to go on a conference call that morning by the liquidators, that was around 7am, which they then informed us that no-one was getting paid for the whole of September.”

For many staff at the company, it wasn’t just wages that were disappearing; rewards for hitting targets and holiday pay also vanished.

“We were all working towards end-of-quarter targets, which most people had hit because it’s the end of the year, so we weren’t getting that as well,” added Rachel.

“Overtime, we weren’t getting that, any holiday pay we wasn’t getting that either.

“So basically, we wasn’t receiving any payments at all, we’d have to go to HMRC and try to claim the funds back.

“Obviously, there’s only certain things you can claim back through HMRC, it’s been really difficult.

“That was it basically, drop the keys off to the guy that was here and that was it.”

Rachel says the whole experience was a shock for everyone, not only the staff, but customers too.

“It was upsetting really,” said Rachel. “It was totally a shock.

“On the Saturday head office was telling us to go in, do our jobs, everything was fine, it’s going to blow over, there’s a plan in place.

“We were still booking holidays and taking people’s money. From that perspective it’s really upsetting for us.

“Not just our jobs but the customers that we know and want to go on holidays that we know come in and pay weekly amounts because it takes them all year to save up.

“It was really, really stressful for everybody throughout the company really.”

Despite an initial announcement that Thomas Cook’s assets had been taken over by Hays Travel, Rachel was sceptical.

“I thought, Thomas Cook said they’re not going under so I’m not believing anything at the moment,” said Rachel

“By that afternoon I’d had a call from our old Thomas Cook regional manager and she explained that she’d been taken on as a regional sales manager for Hays and that they wanted her to reopen all the shops and take on all of the thousands of staff and if we were interested.

“It was like, ‘yes, can we start tomorrow?’ That’s how quick it was.

“I gave the girls here a call and asked them to come to my house to ask them what we were thinking and they were really on board.”

After that Rachel and her team had a quick turnaround before reopening under the Hays Travel banner.

“Once we got our contracts we had about 12 hours’ notice that we were opening and we were back in,” said Rachel.

“It was very, very quick. It was that quick it almost seemed surreal, as if you were waiting for someone to say, oh actually it’s not happening.

“We all kept saying to each other that we couldn’t believe it was happening.

“Hayes have been fantastic, right down to call centre guys, the HR guys, the payroll guys.

“They’ve been absolutely amazing. That makes us feel really positive about taking a step forward in our careers.”