Your car looks gorgeous, but does it have an engine?
We have recently been warned by Visit England that standards have to be raised. Since the award was first launched over half of England’s Five Star cottages have now been given the Gold Award.
Visit England argues, very convincingly, that the bar has to be raised. If over half Five star cottages receive this award, the award has lost its value.
Gold is gold, and not to be taken for granted.
So far so good; it is when one realises that it is not ‘them’ but probably ‘we’ that get downgraded it becomes more personal.
Loss of face certainly, if our Gold Award status is taken away, but practically, also, think of all the stationery that has to be reprinted, the website entries that will soon have to be changed.
If you look at the Visit England table you will see that in every category the stakes have been raised. The only one that instantly doesn’t worry us is the cleanliness. We have consistently scored 100%. The other grades are more problematic, and reignite some longterm anxieties about the scoring system which up until now has seemed to many so subjective, and so unpredictable.
Our two barns have identical tiled floors, and identical wall surfaces: they have received differing grades. In Tom’s Barn we were advised to replace our cooker and the Ikea occasional tables we had. As always, I pored over Which and spent hours in John Lewis and eventually chose an Electrolux double over AA+ model with excellent Which recommendations as being easy to use and to cook with excellent results. We replaced all our old coffee and bedside tables with locally custom made oak beauties, at some considerable expense. They are a great improvement, but did our grades nudge up just a single point? No!
The other anxiety we have always had, is the scope, within a tick box Yes/No system of acknowledging intentionally differing styles. With our two barns we have tried to keep things relatively unfussy, more barn than boutique boudoir. We don’t go in for massive flower arrangements or lavish drapes at the windows. We aim at top quality comfort and quality in an unfussy and unostentatious style. Will that count against us? Time will tell.
The last anxiety that I will mention (there are others) is this: how do you measure the unmeasurable? How do you gauge the degree of genuine care and concern for your well-being, even kindness? How can an inspector coming for the first time – and as an inspector, not a guest – get an understanding of how easy the website is to navigate, how enquiries are dealt with, booking arrangements, whether there is efficient and friendly pre-visit contact, pre-arrival information, whether guests return or never do…? All they can do, if they think of it at all, is to ask these questions of the owner, who quite naturally will answer, “Oh, but of course, yes.”
So, all we can do is continue as always to try to make our barns as cleans and as well-kempt as possible, and to look after you our guests as well as we can from start to finish. If we lose our Gold Awards we shall be devastated, but our standards won’t have changed at all.
Without more real understanding of what makes a ‘good’ cottage a special cottage it is rather like judging a car by its gleaming looks on the garage forecourt, unaware that it has no engine.