Former Thomas Cook staff have spoken of their relief and jubilation at being re-employed by Hays Travel at their original stores.

The former Cook branch in The Bridges shopping centre in Sunderland was the first to receive the Hays Travel fascia on Monday, five days after the independent agency announced its plans to reopen all 555 former Cook stores.

That followed another former Cook store, in the Denmark Centre, South Shields, becoming the first to make a booking after it reopened as part of Hays Travel last Thursday.

More: Hays Travel opens more than 130 ex-Thomas Cook shops

Hays Travel makes first booking at former Thomas Cook shop

Staff at the store said the past three weeks had been a rollercoaster of emotions. All six have been re-employed at their old shop and are working on laptops until Hays Travel’s selling systems are installed.

Manager Nicola Callaghan, who worked for Cook for 20 years, said: “The store is buzzing. We’ve had chocolates and cream cakes from customers and even Hays staff say it’s been emotional.”

Staff now need to learn “the Hays way” of working, she said, but that was likely to mean less paperwork and more time on the counter for managers, with the chance to sell a wider variety of operators. “We’ll be able to sell Jet2holidays, which is music to our ears,” she added.

Assistant manager Gemma Critchlow, a single mum who feared she was unable to pay her mortgage or bills following Cook’s failure, said: “Customers have been giving us the thumbs up and blowing us kisses.

“When Thomas Cook collapsed it was like grief. It was the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. And giving in the keys was surreal. So coming back to work and putting on my uniform again is just mindblowing. We can’t thank [Hays] enough even if we tried.

“With all my team we have gone through every emotion, from crying our eyes out, to now, having our jobs back. To get the call that we would be back at the shop the next day – it was like going from my worst dream to the most amazing dream.”