One of the original founders of Luxury Family Hotels (LFH), Nicholas Dickinson (pictured), has returned to the UK hotel market to buy the three-red-AA-star, 26-bedroom Congham Hall in North Norfolk - one of the last remaining hotels from the Von Essen administration to be sold.
Dickinson has spent the six years since he and his business partner Nigel Chapman sold LFH to Von Essen and Alias Hotels to Abode and Swire, developing and opening the Martinhal Beach Resort and hotel in Portugal, with Chapman.
He said that he is delighted to be returning to the world that he knows and loves. "This acquisition provides the platform to re-establish Congham as one of the pre-eminent country hotels in the UK," he explained. "I had always intended to return to running hotels here and I expect this will be the first of several in the UK."
At the time of the collapse of Von Essen hotels, with debts of nearly £300m in April 2011, Congham Hall was in the middle of construction of a £2.4m extension. Initially, the builders Chalcroft, who were owned £700,000 for unpaid work, exercised its right to take possession of the facilites it was building until it reached agreement with the administrators Ernst & Young to complete the job.
The project included 12 new bedrooms, and a spa with a swimming pool, gym and four treatment rooms.
"All the building work has been finished, but our first priority is some decoration," said Dickinson. "Later in the year we then intend to refurbish the rest of the hotel and add a new bistro to complement the fine-dining restaurant."
Dickinson said he would not be competing with the eight-strong Luxury Family Hotels group, which Chapman now runs again, after buying back the properties - along with some additional hotels - sold to Von Essen in 2006.
"We won't be going down the line of installing crèches, but like all quality country house hotels in the 21st century we will welcome families."
Dickinson's experience is steeped in the country house hotel market, having started his career at Chewton Glen and later moved to Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons before teaming up with Nigel Chapman to launch Luxury Family Hotels and Alias Hotels.
Congham Hall was sold by Christie & Co off a sale price of £2.5m, after originally being marketed at £3m
By Janet Harmer
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