We quit farming to run a hotel… And it worked

20 July 2001

We quit farming to run a hotel… And it worked

Foot-and-mouth is forcing

many farmers to rethink

their careers. For

Elizabeth Pickering it was

TB that pushed them out

of farming and completely

inexperienced, into running

a seaside hotel

MANY farmers are talking about changing their career, but are not sure what they could possibly do when farming is all they know.

We were in a similar situation many years ago when our herd had to be destroyed – not due to foot-and-mouth but because we had TB in some of our 60 head of dairy cows. We then tried to go into sheep farming, but with five children to bring up, we simply could not make a living. We sold our farm lock, stock and barrel and began the search for an alternative living.

We contacted an agent and looked at all the possibilities – shops, market gardens, supermarkets, you name it. Then, out of the blue, our agent rang us.

"Ive found just the thing," he said. "A 32-bedroom hotel."

I just laughed and asked him how he thought we could run a hotel with five children. He asked, "How many do you cook for now?" "Seven," I replied. "Well, just add a nought," he said. Laughing, I told him to send me particulars and we would think about it. We agreed to view to property the following weekend.

The hotel was in Scarborough, a tall Victorian building with four floors and a basement in a terrace of identical properties. It was a seasonal hotel, open from Easter to October. The owner assured us it was a very lucrative business. Hard work during the season, then during the winter months a little maintenance and decorating was all that was needed.

We agreed to buy and moved into a fully booked hotel in the middle of July.

There was nowhere for us to sleep except the lounge in the private accommodation. Fortunately it was a large room. We rowed the beds along the wall, just like a dormitory, and our furniture was stacked along the opposite wall – cramped conditions, to say the least.

This was how we started our first weeks as proprietors of the hotel – the hardest 10 weeks of our lives, and the childrens.

The previous owners stayed with us for a couple of weeks until we were familiar with the business. The older children wanted to be involved and helped where they could. The girls looked after our toddler son, walking miles discovering their new surroundings. We tried to reassure them that once we had the place to ourselves, it would be more like a home. It was far from that in our cramped living quarters.

&#42 So much to learn

Every available minute was taken up with learning how to run the hotel. There seemed so much to absorb in such a short time, as well as making the guests feel we knew what we were doing. We could not let them know how green we really were.

Once on our own, we could put some of our own ideas into practice. Combining my knowledge of cooking with the previous owners expertise in costing, we served home cooked food, which was much appreciated by our guests.

The work was perpetual at our all-inclusive, full-board hotel. Gradually we began to fit in with this new way of life. We missed the farm, yes, but we had other compensations – we were earning a much better living.

We did encounter a few problems, especially with the children when the younger ones developed measles and had to be kept isolated from the guests. Our twin son got stuck in the lift which would not stop and was going up and down from floor to floor – a very hysterical boy had to be rescued. Another child got herself stuck in a wardrobe and nearly suffocated. Just a few of the joys of rearing a large family in a hotel.

One year we hit a big dilemma. The season had started well with good staff, but half way through the season, the waitresses had to leave because of personal problems. We wondered how we were going to manage with a hotel full of guests. Staff was very hard to come by at that time of year. The two older children said: "Why cant we do it? We have been helping to clear tables. Im sure we could manage."

We bought a bow tie for our eldest son, and the waitresses uniforms fitted our eldest daughter. They looked very capable and proved that they were. Each weekend they collected their wages and their tips, and enjoyed their weekly trips to the bank. This was better than pocket money.

In the winters we decorated and had great holidays, which we could now afford. When we were milking cows, we could never take holidays.

We proved it was possible to change direction. My husband had never done anything else but farm, having been brought up on a farm.

Our family has now grown and left home. We sold the hotel and now run a post office with one of our sons in Torquay. We still love the countryside and visit National Trust properties whenever possible, and look round the farming in the area. We know the despair that many farmers are feeling, and our hearts ache for them. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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