A Bang and Olufsen salesman and an interior designer have renovated a beautiful stone former school house in the Yorkshire Dales and created a romantic retreat. They spoke to Janet Harmer
Need to know Made up of a former school house and school master's house which date back to the 16th century, Yorebridge House was converted into a hotel in 2007. The owners, David and Charlotte Reilly spent £1.5m on its purchase - from the Yorkshire Dales National Parks - and subsequent renovation into a boutique country hotel and restaurant.
The Reillys were new to the hotel business - David previously worked in sales for Bang and Olufsen and Charlotte was an interior designer. When they advertised for an operations manager and restaurant manager in early 2010, Adam Dyke, who was working for a recruitment company, suggested that rather than appoint two people, that he should join the hotel as general manager.
Dyke had previously worked in the hospitality industry at Malmaison in Leeds and Le Petit Blanc in Oxford, but had spent the previous five years recruiting staff for hotels and restaurants. "I missed the buzz of hospitality and was eager to get back into it," he says.
"Yorebridge House was one of my biggest clients. I always thought that it had enormous potential, but I felt that there were too many chiefs and what was needed was a general manager to oversee the property and restructure the staff. I was appointed to the post in March 2010 and since then I have helped give a new direction to the place."
Target audience Most of the guests staying at Yorebridge House are couples - who book direct - on a romantic break from affluent communities in Harrogate, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle.
The only alternative means of booking rooms is via Mr & Mrs Smith, which Dyke likes because it represents stylish and individual boutique-style hotels which are akin to Yorebridge House. LateRooms.com used to work with the hotel, but Dyke ended the affiliation because it did not command high enough rates and of the difficulty in being able to establish personal contact with their staff.
"I'm a people person and sometimes you need to be able to speak with somebody to sort out any issues," he explains.
While business is strong - occupancy was 93% in September and 50 weddings will have been held at the hotel by the end of the year - Dyke has no plans to increase prices in 2012.
"We don't intend to do anything which will alienate our guests, not in the current economic climate," he says. "It is the reason we offer one-night stays at the hotel, whereas many hotels ask guests to book for a minimum of two nights, especially at weekends."
Staffing Dyke has doubled the number of staff to 30 and restructured the team by creating separate departments, an apprenticeship scheme and introduced training and motivational sessions for the staff.
"Creating a solid team of staff - 95% of whom live within three miles of the hotel - is what has helped drive the business forward more than anything," he said.
"Around 93% of our guests return to the hotel and out of 269 reviews on TripAdvisor, over 250 give the hotel a rating of four or five, with most of them highlighting the friendliness and personable nature of the staff."
The staff work to zero hour contracts, requiring them to work long hours during the busy summer months and fewer hours during the quieter winter period.
Supporting the locality Yorebridge House has close ties with the local region, from the recruitment of staff from the surrounding area and the support of local food and drinks suppliers to the involvement in community events.
With dairy cattle grazing within 20 metres of the hotel, head chef Aaron Craig cannot help but be inspired by the surrounding produce. He buys the majority of his meat and produce from within Yorkshire.
"Our beef comes from Gilgate Farm just two miles away and our vegetables are from The Good Life in Hawes, which is a wholesaler for produce grown throughout the county," says Craig.
The predominately Yorkshire cheeseboard features Wensleydale, Swaledale, Ribblesdale, Shepherds Purse and Laceys cheese, with Cotherstone from just across the border in Barnard Castle, County Durham, being the only non-Yorkshire cheese.
Dishes reflecting the best of local ingredients include a white velouté with Yorkshire chorizo, quails' egg, confit tomato and Cumbrian ham; as well as best end of lamb, sweetbreads, lamb hot pot, mint jelly and purple mash.
Dyke regularly supports local charity events and fetes by donating prizes for raffles and auctions. "By showing our support for the local community, we benefit from local customers coming into the hotel in return," he says. "We offer a discount for customers living within five miles of the hotel, enabling them to have Sunday lunch for £16.95, compared with the normal price of £19.95."
The future The Reillys have recently acquired a Grade II-listed house in the village of Bainbridge, just a few minutes' walk away. Work is currently under way to convert the property into three luxury en suite bedrooms. One will be over two floors and include an outside hot tub. Two of the rooms will be inspired by the surrounding Yorkshire landscape, while the design of the third is yet to be decided.
The three new bedrooms are expected to be available for occupancy before Christmas.
Spotlight on the bedrooms
The individually designed bedrooms - together with the hot tubs in five of the rooms - provide a romantic edge to Yorebridge House, resulting in an award from TripAdvisor. They have been inspired by locations that have special meaning to the Reillys and create great interest amongst guests.
"We often get asked to take guests on tours of the bedrooms as they are all so different from one another," says Dyke. "There is nothing more romantic than enjoying a glass of Champagne overlooking the snowy Yorkshire Dales.
Charlotte Reilly is responsible for the look of the rooms and is constantly adding new elements from her travels and visits to trade fairs. Each room is closed for a couple of nights every three months to be refreshed with paint.
The Rangali room, with a hot tub for six on its private terrace, reflects the Reillys' honeymoon in the Maldives, while the Italian feel of Pienza echoes the first location they looked to open a hotel. Other rooms such as Mougins (France), Kariega (South Africa) and Rahmoune (Morocco) represent locations they have been on holiday.
Facts and stats
Owners David & Charlotte Reilly
Forecast turnover for 2011 £1.5-£1.6m
Average rate per room £209
Repeat business 93%
Average spend on food and drink £75