FORMER Thomas Cook staff at a North-East branch have told their story following the collapse of the UK's oldest travel agent to being welcomed into one of the UK's largest.

Rhion Singh and Jade Evers are managers of the now Hays Travel branches in Darlington's Prospect Place and North Road Morrisons.

Collectively, the pair have 37 years experience with Thomas Cook and worked in branches in the Metro Centre, Bishop Auckland, Middlesbrough, Darlington and York.

As managers of their own respective stores with responsibility for teams of staff, Mrs Singh and Miss Evers spoke to The Northern Echo about the Thomas Cook aftermath and their journeys after the fallout.

The Northern Echo:

“I had actually booked my own holiday the week before it happened," Miss Evers said.

"In the build-up what we were told was all positive, that everything was going to be fine.

"Things were always changing in the news so it was unsettling for customers but at the same time we were booking holidays and telling them their holidays were protected."

Mrs Singh added: "Every day we were given updates from Thomas Cook of, ‘we expected this media frenzy, everything is fine, just business as usual'."

When the news broke of Thomas Cook's collapse, Mrs Singh and Miss Evers spoke of a night of uncertainty before they were told by the company, in an official email at around 2.30am, they had lost their jobs.

Mrs Singh said: "On the Sunday when Mr Fankenhauser had his meeting, we were all on group WhatsApp and everybody was wondering what was going to happen. We went to bed on that Sunday thinking we were coming to work the next day.

“At the time I was deputising for the regional manager, who was on annual leave, and so I had to go on a conference call at 6am which was where they basically said that we had gone under.

“We were contacted by KPMG, who were the liquidators, and then they met us in the store to get the keys, count the money, and that was it.

"Since then it’s been two weeks of what I can only describe as what it would feel splitting up with a partner. We were all devastated."

Miss Evers added: "The rug was just pulled from under our feet.

"We had about five minutes to go in, get our stuff and get out, and you’re literally just handing over your shop and your baby.

"As a manager you're thinking about your team and your customers. At one point I thought, ‘Oh my god, I told that customer their holiday would be fine and now its not'."

Last week, Hays Travel founder John Hays announced the decision to buy all 555 Thomas Cook stores, giving all Darlington staff their jobs back with immediate effect.

The Northern Echo:

Miss Evers said: “We walked into Hayes Travel shop to meet Claire, the regional manager, and she just went, ‘Who’s the manager of Darlington Prospect? Who’s the manager of North Road Morrisons? Here’s your keys.’ and you were standing there holding the same keys you had just handed over two weeks ago and you had your store back."

Mrs Singh said: "It’s such a tricky situation where you’ve now got multiple branches, and we were wondering how it was going to be, but the Hays Travel staff have been so nice and so welcoming.

"We want to say thank you to Hays Travel, to our staff, and thank you to our customers who have been nothing but generous in wishing us luck."