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How Grantley Hall is challenging preconceptions of country houses

17 August 2019 by

Grantley Hall, one of the north of England's most impressive new hotels in many years, has opened with 47 luxurious bedrooms, a host of elegant spaces for eating out and an extensive spa. Janet Harmer pays a visit

The ambition of the owner of Grantley Hall, the newly opened luxury hotel in North Yorkshire, is unequivocal.

Valeria Sykes intends the 47-bedroom property, with its plethora of food and beverage out lets, to become a world-class operation that will not only make the locals proud but also provide a global audience with a reason to visit Yorkshire.

Sykes move into hotel ownership was unexpected. Her marriage of 44 years to Paul Sykes, multi-millionaire property entrepreneur and major financial supporter of Brexit, ended in divorce, the proceeds of which provided her with the cash to realise her vision.

Grantley hall 2
Grantley hall 2

When Sykes bought Grantley Hall in 2015 off an asking price of £6m the 17th-century property, built by Thomas Norton, was dilapidated, having stood empty for a number of years after most recently being used as an adult training centre. Much of the initial investment was spent on bringing the infrastructure up to scratch, with electric cabling for a high-speed internet connection from Ripon, four miles away, costing £1m alone.

A new wing has been added to create a sense of spaciousness and luxury in both the public areas and bedrooms, which range in size from 38 sq m for a deluxe room to 128 sq m for the Presidential Suite. Meanwhile, much of the 38-acre estate has been landscaped, the listed Japanese garden restored and kitchen garden planted.

Junior suite
Junior suite

**Sykes has been joined by her son, Richard, a property developer and owner of West Park Inns, in overseeing the project. She has played an integral role in the interior design of the hotel, supported by Jo Moore of Ralph Edward Furniture, to pull together a classic country house look with original features, including panelling and ornate cornice work, enhanced and enlivened by contemporary artwork. As many Yorkshire suppliers as possible have been sourced, including the Harrison Spinks beds made in Leeds, while damson gin from Raisthorpe Manor in Malton is a feature in every bedroom.

Andrew McPherson and Shaun Rankin
Andrew McPherson and Shaun Rankin

When it came to the operational side of the hotel, Sykes turned to Andrew McPherson to set the wheels in motion. Previously general manager at Lucknam Park in Colerne, Wiltshire, McPherson came on board in the same role in May 2017, with his wife Jane joining as spa manager from Whatley Manor in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, later the same year.

It is now McPherson's task to ensure that Grantley Hall, which opened its doors to guests in early July, attracts the business to bring the beautifully renovated building to life. With an unprecedented seven food and beverage sites alongside just 46 bedrooms, it will be, he admits, something of a challenge.

On paper the amount of F&B in ratio to the bedrooms doesn't make sense, but it was very much Valeria's aspiration to ensure that Grantley Hall would be regarded as the next generation of country house hotels, explains McPherson. Whereas so many hotels in the country tend to shut down at around 8.30pm, we wanted to create something of an urban vibe and excitement within a country house setting, with the addition of the Eighty Eight bar and restaurant, as well as a nightclub, which stays open late.

Grantley055
Grantley055

Creating online intrigue

While the myriad of F&B outlets, headed by Shaun Rankin's fine dining restaurant (see below), is intended to keep hotel guests within the 38-acre estate, it will also be essential to attract a local clientele from the nearby towns and cities of Ripon, Harrogate and Leeds. Work, in fact, has been going on for some time to bring the hotel and its creation to the attention of the public, with an extensive marketing campaign launched via a website, videos and social media two years ago.

With the hotel still unfinished, Natural Selection Design was commissioned to create a series of engaging videos to show the story of Grantley Hall's reinvention unfold. A bride and groom were shown wandering through the faded grandeur of the unrestored house, while builders downed tools to tuck into a five-star afternoon tea. The artfully shot online films helped build both an awareness of the hotel and attract the right calibre of staff.

Norton Bar
Norton Bar

While marketing for hotel guests this year will be focused on the domestic market and London in particular, with 80% of business initially expected to stem from the capital, 2020 will see attention diverted abroad. Overseas representation will be provided by Travellers Made and Virtuoso, with marketing consortium Relais & Châteaux also helping to drive international business.

McPherson is, in fact, delighted to reveal that the hotel's membership of Relais & Châteaux is already paying handsome dividends among the top-end domestic market.

I think the amount of UK business we have had from guests who want to tick us off their Relais & Châteaux list has probably already paid for our membership fee and has helped drive up our average room rate in the early days to £287, which is really very good for North Yorkshire. Being a member of the consortium is also hugely important for staff 128;" both for bringing them here and providing a springboard for going elsewhere in the world.

Recruiting the 230-strong team for Grantley Hall is one area of the operation that has been easier than expected, something that McPherson puts down to the establishment of the training academy (see below). Usually, you would expect to lose around 20% of the team around an open, but in our case it has only been 7%, says McPherson.

Morning room
Morning room

As well as putting a clear development programme in place for all staff, accommodation is provided on-site for up to 44 team members in converted stables, alongside a staff gym and pool table. A separate kitchen is dedicated to every six en suite bedrooms. Additional staff housing is expected to be available soon in a number of rented houses in Ripon.

The structure that has been put in place for the staff is an indication that we are paving the way to create them with a better future, adds McPherson. Of course, the challenge now is that we have to deliver on that.

The Grantley Academy

Central to Valeria Sykes wish to create a world-leading hotel for Yorkshire offering consistently high service was the insistence that some form of training facility would be provided on-site.

The result is the Grantley Academy, a dedicated provision at East Lodge, with a learning resource library located at the entrance to the estate. The academy is headed by Samantha Fearnley, director of human resources, and Joanna Nobile, director of learning and development.

Each member of staff undergoes an induction programme on joining the hotel, followed by mandatory e-learning involving equality and diversity in the workplace, fire, first aid, and health and safety. A bespoke training programme is then put in place to support them in their role as they develop their skills.

It is important that the plan is tailor-made for each member of staff, as some people may join us with no hospitality experience and it may take them anything from six weeks to six months to reach the five-star standard of service we require, whereas those with experience may take just five days, says Nobile. Everyone comes to us with a different skillset, knowledge, culture and background.

Communication is an integral part of the learning culture, from every new recruit being paired up with a buddy, who will take them to lunch on their first day, to regular evaluations and assessments to ensure progress is being made and every staff member is happy in their role. Indeed, the learning and development team works closely with the HR team in order that the wellbeing and mental health of every member of staff is prioritised.

Three Graces Spa
Three Graces Spa

Nobile explains that carefully considered training for all staff makes sound business sense.

If you train staff the right way to meet their needs, then you will retain staff and you will not spend on recruiting someone else, and you will keep their knowledge and expertise, she says.

To ensure the hotel is on the right track, every aspect of the training is assessed via anonymous feedback. Although it is early days, the success rate so far is 98%. The staff are loving it, with many describing it as a unique experience, saying that they are amazed that they are being shown such care and investment, she adds.

Alongside in-house training, courses are also provided by outside bodies, including HIT Training, Saxton & Partners, Concord Hotels, Ashville Business School, Safety Group, Manchester City Football Club, First Aider Training, Cheshire Wellness and Leeds College.

Amy Brooksbank, wedding and special events co-ordinator, joined Grantley Hall in 2017 and is studying for the Hospitality Management Level 4 qualification (specialising in sales and revenue) with HIT Training.

"I'm grateful to Grantley Hall for giving me this opportunity that will help expand my knowledge in areas of the business in which I'd like to develop further, says Brooksbank.

Nobile concludes: "It is in the interest of the hotel to provide solid learning and development. In time we hope that Grantley Hall will be seen as a beacon of training."

Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall

Shaun Rankin at Grantley HallGrantley065
Shaun Rankin at Grantley HallGrantley065

The opening of the 38-cover, fine dining Shaun Rankin restaurant at Grantley Hall marks a homecoming for the chef, who last worked in North Yorkshire 26 years ago.

"I was 21 when I left the Black Bull in Moulton—it was probably one of the best restaurants in the north-east of England at the time, says Rankin, who went on to gain overseas experience in Italy, France, the US and Australia before settling down in Jersey for 22 years and, more recently, moving to London.

Stefan Rose, pastry chef; Craig Atchinson, head chef, Fletchers; Lucy Hyder, banqueting chef; and Ben Iley, head chef, Restaurant EightyEight
Stefan Rose, pastry chef; Craig Atchinson, head chef, Fletchers; Lucy Hyder, banqueting chef; and Ben Iley, head chef, Restaurant EightyEight

Initially, the chef was brought on board at Grantley Hall as an F&B consultant to advise on the best mix of restaurant and bar outlets and design the kitchens and front of house spaces. It was only at a later stage it was confirmed that Rankin would head the hotel's flagship restaurant. "I knew the potential could be phenomenal, as the restaurant is open only at dinner five days a week, with just a tasting menu on offer," he explains.

Kitchen garden
Kitchen garden

The location of Grantley Hall has inspired Rankin to move his food into a new direction, replacing his earlier, more cosmopolitan style with one firmly rooted in Yorkshire. The quality has risen a notch, with the expectation that the Michelin star he achieved at Bohemia in Jersey (where Rankin also won the Menu of the Year Catey in 2005), and then repeated when he moved on the island to Ormer, will be at least be met, if not exceeded, with the attainment of two stars.

Bread, butter, dripping, beef tea
Bread, butter, dripping, beef tea

Aptly named Taste of Home, the 10-course tasting menu, which will change seasonally, is all about childhood memories and nostalgia. Think of fresh tomatoes served with malt vinegar, which in Rankin's version features Yellison goats' cheese and malt vinegar snow, or bread and dripping reinvented as sourdough served with foraged herb butter, smoked bone marrow and beef tea.

Rankin's intention is for the kitchen garden to provide the bulk of the produce and all ingredients sourced from within a 40-mile radius within two years. He already uses rapeseed in place of olive oil and is preserving harvests of tomatoes, plums and more.

Tomato, cheese, vinegar
Tomato, cheese, vinegar

"We will have no problem with great quality meat, which is all around us, and we are blessed with grouse moors just around the corner, but we won't be going to Scotland for scallops and langoustines as we want to keep our carbon footprint low. Fish, though, is plentiful in Whitby and Hartlepool on the east coast. We want to stand out for being creative and doing something different."

The menu

Taste of home, £90

• Snacks

• Kitchen garden

• Bread, butter, dripping, beef tea

• Tomato, cheese, vinegar

• Scampi, seaweed

• Lamb, artichoke, fermented wild garlic

• Rhubarb, Wensleydale, buckwheat

• Gooseberry, elderflower

• Woodruff ice-cream, raspberry, hazelnut

• Sweets

Wine pairing: Signature, £65; Prestige, £115

Lamb, artichoke, fermented wild garlic
Lamb, artichoke, fermented wild garlic

Contact and details

Grantley Hall, Near Ripon, North Yorkshire HG4 3ET

01765 620070

www.grantleyhall.co.uk

Bedrooms 47

Owner Valeria Sykes

General manager Andrew McPherson

Food and beverage Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall (fine dining), Fletchers (all-day dining), Eighty Eight bar and restaurant (pan-Asian), Norton Bar & Courtyard, Valeria's Champagne & Cocktail Bar (nighclub), Three Graces Spa Lounge, the Drawing Room (afternoon tea), and banqueting suite for up to 180 guests

Leisure facilities Three Graces Spa (five treatment rooms, 18m indoor swimming pool, indoor-to-outdoor hydrotherapy pool, sauna, steam room and snow room and Elite Luxury Gym & Wellness (led by Atlantic rower Duncan Roy with biometric machines, cryotherapy chamber and underwater treadmill)

Average room rate £287

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