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Behind the Scenes

Why on earth ask us about holiday cottages?

...Sharing some Tip Top Tips for prospective owners...

Tom's and Douglas's Barns in 1983

A disclaimer: Presuming to write this does sound horribly big-headed, but we have been asked for advice about holiday cottages over the years by a number of friends, colleagues and relations and we have just had another urgent plea from a family friend, so John and I have tried to put our thoughts together, hopefully helpfully.

It’s funny the way things go – one spends ages feeling a complete novice and long before feeling at all confident – if indeed one ever does – suddenly people start asking for advice. This massive status leap takes some getting used to.

The fact is that we have now been going for well over a decade. Tom’s Barn’s transformation from dilapidated cow shed’ to des. hol. res’ took place in 2000; Douglas’s Barn, the newbie on the block, only saw the light of day in 2006.

Tom's and Douglas's Barns now

Over the years we have learnt a lot, and still are learning, all the time, but are very happy to share what we have learnt with anyone interested, and also to pick other people’s brains too. One could never claim to have all the answers.

We take it very seriously, absolutely love it and live it. We don’t think of it as a business as such but nor is it a little hobby on the side. It more feels like a happy extension of what John and I have been involved in all our adult lives (and my parents before that in their career abroad) – looking after people and doing all one can to ensure they are comfortable and happy! So, here goes…

1: First do your research!

Assuming you have a property in mind (if not, look for somewhere in an attractive area, reasonably near you or someone extremely responsible) our first advice to anyone thinking of launching out, is to do your homework with an eye on the local market and of course, the available budget. Ask around – is there a gap in the local provision or might you be overloading it? What seems to go well locally? Will you easily be able to find essential local suppliers and domestic help?

I’d recommend at this stage sending for holiday cottage brochures and looking at websites to help get a feel for what’s around and what you’re aspiring to. Look at local holiday cottage websites and talk to local owners; think of your local colleagues as friends and not competitors. it can be a lonely business if you’re all on your own and you’ll find sharing information and support with them is invaluable.

Also, it might be worth getting in touch with your official local tourism people who might have some very useful information about the local situation, and also, just possibly, where you might get local professional advice or even financial help if you are tackling an ‘interesting’ building. Locally there is an e-Business club which provides wonderful training workshops for people setting up new businesses (no longer free sadly, but still modestly priced). It would be worth finding out if there is anything similar in your area.

At this stage possibly start thinking about good local builders, sympathetic to what you are trying to achieve, and architects if appropriate. Depending on what you are hoping to do, and to what, you may have to get planning permission from your local District Council for change of use or whatever is deemed necessary – it’s best to be safe if you’re in any doubt! In our case, the Peak Park authorities have a big say in any project and it is very wise to work with them from the start.

2. Decisions

Visit England Quality grading 'bible'

Bearing in mind what clues you’ve picked up about the potential demand local support, think hard about the kind of holiday cottage you would like to have – cheap and cheerful or more expensive and select, for families with children or cosy twosomes, for big parties and group celebrations or perhaps as part of a creative centre running classes and demonstrations…?

We would always advise going for the highest standard you possibly can, whatever you category you plump for. Ask the Visit England Quality in Tourism people for their booklet explaining their grading system, with guidelines for the relevant star grading, 5 being the top. This way you will get a clear idea of what needs to be done to achieve – without too many tears and tantrums – the standard you would like.

Orchard Farm as we bought it in 1983

By this time you should be ready to start making some concrete plans… Stage two in a few days!

I couldn’t rest putting in this pic of Orchard Farm as it was. It’s not really relevant at all, but it is in so much as it gives an indication that we have a track record of sorts!

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