Business recovery stories: Yorebridge House

Yorebridge House is a 12-bedroom, 5-star boutique hotel and 3-rosette restaurant in the Yorkshire Dales. The former headmaster’s house and school was bought by Charlotte and Dave Reilly in 2006 and fully renovated before opening in 2008.

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This drive and passion for the business has served them well during the pandemic, when they have:

1. Built on a solid business base. Prior financial and scenario planning and sensible cash reserves meant that whilst the business certainly faced challenges, the team were able to anticipate and forecast what might happen in particular scenarios and as far as possible, plan accordingly.

2. Kept staff involved and informed. The staff were kept up to date through regular emails, newsletters and personal support. Staff were also asked to create a ‘local walks menu’ including personal tips and advice, which was made available for guests on reopening.

Due to COVID breakfast buffets were no longer acceptable and so we switched to table service and asked guests to book a time in advance. Having a glass of orange juice with ice brought to the table is actually a lovely way to have breakfast – the guests have enjoyed it – and it’s a change we plan to keep’.

3. Gained support from others. The VisitEngland Business Advice Hub provided useful guidance and Dave and Charlotte also found it very helpful to keep in touch with hospitality colleagues to exchange ideas and discuss common concerns. The strong relationships they’d built with their suppliers over many years (for example, giving them vouchers for stays to mark the hotel’s tenth anniversary and inviting them for special events) proved valuable in the uncertain and challenging times between lockdowns and reopening, when the need for products and services from those suppliers was highly variable.

4. Changed the experience but not the quality. Using the guest journey to guide them, the business focused on making sure that any changes not only kept guests safe but also ensured the high quality experience they’d expect. For example, they made more use of the outside lawns for dining in order to space out guests but invested in a canopy, new furniture, attractive lighting and blankets to make it special.

‘Positivity is undoubtedly the thing that got our business through. Positivity kept us motivated throughout the lockdown; positivity kept us proactive and improving the product; positivity kept our staff engaged and confident in their future with us; positivity kept our customers happy and excited about returning and trusting they’d have a wonderful but safe experience.’

5. Supported their local community. The hotel became a donation centre for local residents to give items to local hospital patients who were unable to receive visitors and therefore essential supplies. The hotel also donated toiletries and other items to show care for NHS staff.

6. Used the time to make plans for the future. During lockdown the team planned and gained permission to build a spa in the grounds, overlooking the river. The concept is designed to meet changing consumer preferences following the pandemic, comprising separate areas which can be privately hired by guests.

7. Embraced the opportunity of an empty hotel. Early in the first lockdown, Charlotte and Dave took the opportunity to set up layouts for weddings, private functions and meetings for professional photography and videography. At such an uncertain time this was a nerve-wracking investment, but their proactivity really paid off: customers have made bookings even when they couldn’t physically visit.

How other hotels have adapted: Gray's Court Hotel, York

Gray’s Court Hotel is a 12 bedroom hotel in York. Gray’s Court realised that their inside space would make it difficult for residents and other guests to socially distance, especially when getting drinks from the indoor bar. The owners decided to invest in renovating an external part of the building as a new garden bar, from which drinks could be served over a new stable door with protective screen, as well as refurbishing an outside toilet. This enabled them to maximise the number of people they could accommodate for drinks and make the most of the hotel’s attractive outside spaces. It reassured customers about the space available and was extremely popular in the summer months. Buoyed by the success of this change, business partners Helen and Sarah also used the time in lockdown to successfully apply for planning permission to turn a derelict coach house in the hotel grounds into further guest accommodation.