Ed Burrows and Charles Randall are the partners behind Wildhive, a new nature-inspired brand that is launching its first hotel, Callow Hall, this summer. Janet Harmer discovers the seeds of inspiration behind its beehives, treehouses and wellness centre.
A hotel with half of its bedrooms located in cabins dotted around spacious grounds could not be more apt for our times. Ed Burrows and Charles Randall could not, of course, have foreseen that the Covid-19 pandemic would increase demand from guests seeking exclusive accommodation in rural locations, but that is exactly what they are offering at Callow Hall, situated on a 35-acre estate on the southern edge of the Peak District in Derbyshire.
Set to open in August, the 30-bedroom hotel will be the first in what is expected to be a five-strong group of individually named bucolic boutique properties, operating under the newly launched Wildhive brand.
Sowing the seeds of Wildhive
Burrows and Randall have spent four years working on the finer details of Wildhive. They met 12 years ago at Barnsdale Lodge in Oakham, Rutland, in their respective roles as managing director and finance director. In 2013 they launched 17 retreats at the hotel, located within timber-framed buildings with sedum roofs and strong environmentally friendly components, taking the total room count at Barnsdale up to 46. "Guests like having their own space, while at the same time having the comfort of being looked after like they are in a hotel," explains Burrows.
The partners will continue to oversee Barnsdale Lodge with a full management team in place on behalf of the owner, Thomas Noel, as they go about launching and growing Wildhive.
Callow Hall, for now, is taking up Burrows and Randall's full attention as they gear up for the opening in three months' time. They bought the 170-year-old building in 2018 for £2m from David and Joan Hardman, who themselves purchased it out of the Von Essen administration in 2011.
Following an investment of nearly £7m in refurbishing and extending the hotel, the partners intend to return Callow Hall to the glory days it enjoyed between 1982, when it was converted to a hotel by the Spencer family, and 2008, when it was sold to Von Essen.
Finance for the acquisition and transformation of the hotel has been raised from private investors who remain in the background. "They are locked into the vision for Wildhive, but allow us to get on with it," says Randall.
While the partners come from divergent backgrounds, they believe the experience each brings to the table makes for a strong team. "You can have great operators who get immersed in their guests, but who take their eyes off the finances, while equally you have financial experts who are not able to deal with the operations," says Burrows.
What unites the pair is their passion for offering great hospitality within a sustainable business. "We are not just looking to maximise revenues and profits in one year; businesses that do that are generally short-lived," continues Burrows. "It is about creating a long-term project where the guests want to come back year after year with their families and friends."
The consideration the partners are giving to the long term has played a significant role in bringing together a team of architects, contractors and designers that they hope will not only work on Callow Hall, but also on future projects for Wildhive.
Covid has delayed the inaugural hotel. Building work got under way in early March 2020 before being halted three weeks later and starting up again in October. While the main house, including the addition of a contemporary glass room to accommodate the restaurant and extensive bar, is now complete, work is continuing on the outside spaces.
The glass room, at the cost of nearly £1m, is one of two major building projects at Callow Hall, the other being two treehouses, located in ancient woodland. Burrows and Randall had originally envisioned a stone-clad extension to the Grade-II-listed building to house the F&B elements of the hotel, but the planning officers wanted a modern attachment.
The result is a space that will allow guests to soak up the natural elements of the project, from the wild meadow at the front of the hotel to the extensive planting inside and on to the woodland beyond – all of which are key elements to the ethos of Wildhive. Its signature statement is its 15 beehives.
"We were told by the British Beekeepers Association that 15 was the number of hives we should have to be able to give guests a pot of honey when they leave," says Randall.
Alongside the 15 bedrooms in the main house (variously categorised as ‘cosy', ‘lovely' and ‘fabulous'), a further 15 will be split across 11 ‘hives' (essentially wooden cabins) and two treehouses. Each hive will feature a bedroom, bathroom and decking, as well as incorporating a chef's cupboard with sink and small oven, which will act as a finishing kitchen for the ready-to-go dishes provided in "wild boxes" prepared by the hotel's kitchen brigade. Treehouses – each featuring two bedrooms, sitting room, dining room and fully fitted kitchen – will allow for a full self-catering option.
Blue Forest, the designer of the hives and treehouses, has previously established its hotel credentials through the creation of treehouse suites at Chewton Glen in New Milton, Hampshire, and the Fish in Broadway, Worcestershire. All of the main house bedrooms and four of the hives will be ready for guests in August, with the rest of the accommodation opening by November.
Also located in the grounds will be the Wellness Centre, situated in a converted coach house. To encourage a connection to the outside space, the gym, with rowing machines and interactive bikes, will sit under cover within the landscaped courtyard, while inside guests can enjoy spa treatments in three rooms. Bicycles, including e-bikes, will be available and a map room will provide all the information required for guests to set out on a cycling tour or walking trek.
While Burrows and Randall have set out to create a unique brand in Wildhive, they recognise that they have been inspired by Robin Hutson at the Pig hotels, the Fish on the Farncombe Estate, the individuality of the hotels in the Polizzi Collection and the traditionalism of Rocco Forte. There is also a definite nod to the distinct look of the properties across the Firmdale Hotels portfolio, with the interiors of Callow Hall created by Isabella Worsley, a former Firmdale designer. Throughout the hotel, Worsley uses a rich colour scheme, bold prints and statement headboards, featuring fabrics reflecting the surrounding landscapes.
Colourful and statement contemporary art from British artists Eduardo Paolozzi, Jonathan Schofield, Sarah Graham and Alba Hodsoll add an edge to the design.
"We got to know Isabella through the owner of Barnsdale, having always loved the individuality of the Firmdale brand," says Randall.
"Some people might think it is a risk going with Isabella as this is her first hotel, but we believe it is a risk that has paid off. We are pleased that we have been able to give her this opportunity," adds Burrows.
Happy staff, happy guests
Callow Hall will also be the launch pad for Jeremy Whitworth into his first general manager position. He is joining the hotel from Montagu Arms hotel in Beaulieu, Hampshire, where he has spent nearly five years as assistant manager. Once fully recruited, Whitworth's team will comprise around 70 full-time staff.
Looking after the staff will be central to the success of Wildhive, Burrows and Randall agree. "Happy guests will not just be the result of the wallpaper on the wall or the food we serve – it will principally be about the smiles on the faces of staff and how the team react and deal with guests," says Randall. "It is therefore important that everyone is happy." To this end, steps to incentivise the team include a success-based bonus structure.
Providing the opportunity for staff to progress in their careers will also be important when it comes to encouraging team members to establish a long-term career within the company. The development of future hotels within the Wildhive collection will be key to offering a route for such career development.
The search for additional properties is yet to find a second hotel, but the checklist for a suitable contender is clear. A building of architectural interest is at the top of the list, alongside a property that sits proudly within its grounds. Land to incorporate wide-open spaces and the opportunity to develop additional bedrooms, whether it be cabins, treehouses or earth dens, is also fundamental, as are some useful outbuildings ripe for conversion into leisure or wellness facilities. And finally, the location of an untapped rural area – as in the case of the Peak District – is essential.
It is probably due to the final criterion that Wildhive is unlikely to venture south, where a plethora of renowned country house hotels are already well established. Instead, Norfolk, Yorkshire, the Ribble Valley in Lancashire, Northumberland and North Wales are very much on the target list.
Randall suggests that the likes of Cornwall, the Cotswold and the Lake District are already congested with great rural hotels.
"We are not afraid of being in the middle of nowhere where there are no other hotels," he says. "If we get our model right – create a homely atmosphere within an amazing property and provide a welcome that the guests know within the first five minutes that they will want to return – we can put a hotel anywhere."
The visionaries behind Wildhive, Ed Burrows and Charles Randall, believe their very different career experiences will provide the necessary mix required to run and build an aspirational hotel brand.
Burrows is a hotelier through and through, having started his career helping to launch the Priory Bay hotel alongside its owner Andrew Palmer, founder of New Covent Garden Soup Company.
It was during this time that he came into contact with the individual who he says has had the most significant influence on his career: Ron Jones, former general manager of Claridge's London and Hotelier of the Year 1988. Post-retirement, Jones worked as a consultant and through his contacts enabled Burrows to undertake work experience at a number of hotels in the capital, including the Lanesborough and Dukes.
"I still refer to Ron's notes today when training managers," says Burrows, whose time at Priory Bay included managing the Michelin-starred restaurant in Pimlico, which was owned by the hotel. He left the Isle of Wight to move to Barnsdale Lodge in 2003.
Randall's introduction to the world of hospitality came about through advising businesses in the sector on financial matters. After training with Touche Ross and Deloitte, he founded Tayler Bradshaw, an accounting and tax advisory practice, in 1990. Alongside continuing to run the business, which he eventually sold in 2015, Randall spent 10 years living in Spain running an organic fruit farm with his family, growing lemons, limes, orange and avocados and producing extra virgin olive oil. It was this period in Spain that introduced him to the benefits of living and working surrounded by nature. He started his role as finance director at Barnsdale Lodge in 2007.
Derbyshire delights and dinner from the fire pit
The setting of the restaurant at Callow Hall will tie guests close to nature, with widespread views onto the surrounding woodlands through the expanse of glass walls and the sedum roof providing a habitat for birds and insects.
Executive chef David Bukowicki, formerly of Barnsdale Lodge, has spent lockdown sourcing as much local produce as possible. "Derbyshire has some incredible artisan producers and David has been hosting cheesemakers, charcuterie makers, egg suppliers and pig farmers," says Burrows. "He has even come across a fantastic mozzarella supplier."
Randall adds: "We want to use suppliers that are as local as possible, but we won't not put kippers on the menu just because we are not close to the sea." Additional ingredients, particularly herbs, will be grown in the hotel's kitchen garden.
The menu in the restaurant will reflect a casual dining approach, with a snap (a Derbyshire word for snack) offer available in the hotel's drawing room, library and snug. However, there will also be an opportunity for guests to indulge in a more refined food menu in the private dining room, which features a mural by Melissa White depicting the natural topography and flora and fauna from the locality.
For guests looking for a more rustic experience, there will be an opportunity to dine in a woodland setting, with a chef cooking simple dishes, such as châteaubriand with wild garlic, over a fire pit. "We are all so much more used to eating outside as a result of recent restrictions," says Randall.
Typical dishes expected on the menu at Callow Hall include Dovedale blue twice-baked soufflés with foraged puffball mushrooms and a port reduction; potted Morecambe Bay shrimp with lobster butter, smoked bacon and bread; Aberdeen Angus beef cheeks with Chatsworth gold, Shetland black potatoes, carrots and turnips; and iced lemon and Callow Hall honey parfait with whiskey, peaches and Ashbourne gingerbread.
Contact and details
Callow Hall, Mappleton, Ashbourne, Derbyshire DE6 2AA
Directors Ed Burrows and Charles Randall
General manager Jeremy Whitworth
Executive chef David Bukowicki
Starting room rates £179 (cosy), £199 (lovely), £239 (fabulous), £259 (woodland hives), £239 (two-bedroom treehouses)
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