We have just been awarded a 2017 VisitEngland Rose Award in recognition of Excellent Customer Service. These awards are given annually to 100 VisitEngland quality assessed accommodation businesses that go the extra mile in order to provide excellent customer service and can only be won once. The nominations are triggered following annual VisitEngland assessment and observation of the assessor including online customer service reviews. The judging panel look for innovation that sets the business apart. A big thank you to all our lovely guests for wanting to come and stay with us and also for all the reviews that guest take time to do.
We are delighted to have been awarded a Gold Green Tourism Board Award and also the Peak District Environmental Quality Mark. Great for our efforts over the last 6 months to be recognised.
Our inspection report has arrived, and yes, we did not dream the Five Stars nor the Gold Award (one does begin to wonder…) We are informed that we may, at our discretion, make our inspection report available publicly; we are happy to share it with you, warts and all although I must admit we are very pleased with it. Have a look for yourself if you’d like to, click here to see the report.There are certain things we are stuck with, which we have to accept will bring marks down such as the size and shape(s) of the building and the truss in Tom’s Barn bedroom which therefore makes the bedroom appear quite cramped and yet at the same time extremely spacious as one looks out over the gallery towards our veg patch.
The inspector shuddered visibly when she looked at Tom’s Barn bath. She said that although to her it would be a nightmare she appreciated that to most of our guests it is rather special; she agreed that as long as it is clear to potential guests that they have to mountaineer – or at least climb up steps and down – to have a bath then if that is not to their taste they can try Douglas’s Barn’s more conventional approach!
Our walls are mostly rough plastered (‘It’s more than my job’s worth,’ muttered the plasterer when we told him we wanted to recreate the texture – as far as possible – of the original walls of the cow barns that they once were). Despite the rather illogical Farrow and Ball paint the texture of the walls does mean that the decoration is never going to be classed as ‘excellent’ and because neither bathroom has floor to ceiling tiling neither will ever get an excellent for that.
Our ‘cottages’ are converted barns. Having opted for a certain relaxed style and atmosphere, we are never going to be up there with the super elegant boutique cottages with their glossy magazine kitchens, wet rooms, swags and drapes and underfloor heating but that’s a choice we make. It may well be one we regret, as expectations and standards rise increasingly higher but we’ll just have to keep hoping that there are still lots of you out there who want great comfort but are happy with the odd ‘cosy’ – in estate agent speak- space or only half-tiled bathroom!
There are two scores in the report that we are unreservedly proud of. The first is the 100% for cleanliness (we’ve had that every year and my goodness Janet and Carol and indeed we all work hard at that). Our hope is that you will never be reminded that you are not the first person to stay in your barn. We’ve all stayed in enough well-respected/secretly grotty hotel and other rooms to know how horrid it is – no matter how elegant the public reception areas are – to feel you daren’t walk barefoot on the bedroom carpet because it looks greasy and stained and there are hairs in the plughole of the bath, and the pillows smell rather used. Sorry…
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Here is the evidence! A little piece of card, written in biro, which gives us the opportunity for a little bit of relieved trumpet blowing, or sharing of good news. We had our annual Visit England Quality in Tourism (QiT) Inspection yesterday. One never likes to be too confident but quietly we were reasonably sure we were in no risk of losing our Five Star grading. What we were much less sure about was the coveted Gold Award, having been warned at the Premier Cottages AGM last October that too many people were receiving a Gold Award. It is meant to signify ‘exceptional quality’ ‘la creme de la creme’… Their answer is to raise the qualifying score levels, quite considerably, to ensure that the award remains exclusive.
Quality is about exceeding expectations. That’s delicate! People have got to be tempted to stay somewhere so will already have high expectations but not so high that they are bound to feel let down. We’re always pleased when a first-time guest walks in, gasps with delight (had to put that in!) and says ‘It looks better than the website!” Often they then explain that in the past when visiting somewhere for the first time they have felt disappointed because reality had not lived up to what they felt they had been led to expect. They had expected the bedroom to be more spacious, or the views to be more attractive, or indeed for the champagne on ice to be awaiting them.
One thing we feel strongly about is not raising impossible expectations. Wide-angled lenses and clever photo-shopping can create an illusion of space, or elegance. Props such as a bowl of colourful fruit or a tray laid with cut glass champagne flutes and an expensive bottle of champagne…that’s fine if that is why your guests can expect but I am afraid that our guests can’t (sorry!). You can expect a plate of homemade cake though, so we’ll show you a photo of that in the hopes it won’t actually put you off!
So what our inspector found yesterday when she went round Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns was exactly what you, or any of our guests would find upon arrival.The only difference was that because neither barn was booked we seized the precious opportunity, as we always do when we can, to wash and iron the cushion covers, take Tom’s Barn sofa cover to the dry cleaners and extra things like that. Nothing in fact that you or the inspector would notice, but it feels good to us because we know that everything is as spotless as it possibly can be. Carol and Janet worked even harder than usual, which is saying something, absolutely determined that their first class reputation as very special cleaners was not going to be ruined in their own eyes by anything less than 100% for cleanliness!
When we get the final report we will let you know all the scores and any particular recommendations.
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.
Well, we can tell you ‘Competition-winner Sal C from Birmingham’ is no figment of the imagination of any (non-existent in our case) PR department. She really does exist. She and Andrew have just spent the weekend here with us in Douglas’s Barn.
To prove it here is a hurried photo taken by John when they came to say goodbye! We persuaded them back to Douglas’s Barn where they very good-naturedly sat on the sofa, still in their outdoor clothes poor things, as they were all set to leave.
Even Sal had not been too hopeful of any chance of success; after she had left we found this delightful and totally unsolicited entry in the visitors’ book:
“Last winter, I was sat on a delayed commuter train and saw a competition to win a weekend break in ‘Jane Eyre country’, in Stylist magazine. Having forgotten I had even entered I was very surprised when I received an email to say I’d won! I had four Premier Cottages to choose from and quickly chose Douglas’s Barn and am very glad I did! We’ve had a lovely relaxing and peaceful weekend in Douglas’s Barn. The barn is equipped with everything you could ever need! Thank you for a lovely stay!”
So, top marks to Premier Cottages, with their ‘unparalleled track record for excellence’! It looks as if we have all ended up winners: Sal and Andrew having had by all accounts a wonderful weekend, we having had some charming and grateful guests and Premier Cottages for once again providing unbeatable quality for their guests and owners.
I know we’ve been dashing thither and thither recently, but I bet you didn’t know that Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns has been on the move too: we appear to have been transported to France…
A few days ago we received this rather handsome table plaque from TripAdvisor, accompanied by a warm letter of congratulations, in French. The plaque, rather conveniently has an English translation on the reverse, but no such political correctness for the (French) letter.I mock, but not seriously. Whether in English or French, we are delighted that, thanks to those of our guests who have taken the trouble to write a review, TripAdvisor has seen fit to award this acknowledgement. We have said before, but we feel so lucky to have such lovely guests who seem to be so happy with everything, even when the weather is bad. We often hear dread tales of ‘the guests from hell’, but we are lucky enough to feel with nearly all of ours that we would be grateful to count them as friends. It’s not all sweetness and light. We do have problems from time to time – flooding boilers, power cuts, deep snow, a fridge going on the blink on Christmas Eve… Fortunately – thanks to our great band of loyal and kindly local’tradesman’ and the fact that we live next door and can usually come to the rescue somehow (and that our guests tend to be very understanding and sympathetic) the problems are usually quickly resolved or turn into the opportunity for a party, such as when we have the odd power cut and entertain by candlelight. And such as also once when our really lovely guests from Edinburgh couldn’t leave because their little car was knee deep in snow but the incoming guests insisted stoutly that absolutely nothing would prevent them from getting here.
We end with two photos that seem to sum up what it’s all about, and neither any credit to us. We are simply fortunate to live in such a lovely area as the Peak District and we can bask in its reflected glory. The views, the walks – with or without dogs, the soothing peace and quiet of our little corner: we appreciate them as much as anybody and it is a privilege to be able to share them with our guests and revel in their enjoyment.
As a traveller, like more and more others we rely on TripAdvisor to check out any holiday plans before finally booking, and have been saved in the nick of time from many a disastrous choice. And if we have had a good experience, I am very happy to write a review – although I would hesitate to write a bad one unless the experience was so bad one felt obliged to warn others in time, and probably thanks to TripAdvisor that has never happened yet.
As an accommodation owner, you either love or hate TripAdvisor, and it certainly can be abused. We have at least one good friend, with terrific holiday cottages, who got a dreadful review from someone who had never even stayed but was annoyed because she wasn’t able to book the dates she wanted and thought would be free. Although as the one and only damning review sitting amongst glowing reports it looks suspiciously out of place to any discerning reader, it is still there, rather spoiling the atmosphere.
So far we have been lucky enough to escape any malicious reports from non-visitors, and we hope that if any of our genuine visitors had any queries and complaints they would without hesitation come to us immediately, and we would always do all we could to sort the matter out immediately and satisfactorily. Things can go wrong (Douglas’s Barn boiler – are you listening?) but we always do all we can to get them sorted immediately and we are lucky enough, living in a small and very supportive community, to have local tradesman who will come at a moment’s notice to sort things out for us.
So we were truly delighted to receive this Certificate of Excellence ‘that honours business that consistently earn top ratings from TripAdvsor travellers’ and only given to ‘exceptional performers in TripAdvisor’s global business community’… Forgive the moment of ear-shattering (second hand) trumpet blowing but once in a while it does feel rather nice! However, on sober reflection, it is a two way process. We provide the kind of cottages we hope you and all our guests will enjoy, but it is you, the guests, who make them the happy success that they are. For some lucky reason we seem to have the loveliest, most appreciative people staying, who love their accommodation and love to make the most of the beautiful area surrounding us and all the wonderful local opportunities to enjoy themselves while they are here. No wonder they write good reviews…
Believe it or not, life goes on as normal in Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns, and Orchard Farm too for that matter, although judging from the loud silence from these parts you might be forgiven for wondering. I am really sorry to have been so apparently lazy but in fact we have been away! We spent a few days in Yorkshire helping a very old – as in longterm – friend celebrate a significant birthday.
She did this in some style so we arrived home larger and decidedly better fed than when we left, and as usual after even a short time away there is a mountainous backlog of emails and urgent things to do. The emails I have almost worked my way through; one very urgent matter which is going to take a lot of time is our 2012 GTBS (Green Tourism Business Scheme) inspection which is due this Friday…! It is rather tedious in that one has to produce monthly records of oil, electricity and water consumption and cost. This would be easy for those efficient souls who keep monthly records and up to the minute accounts but those of us who tend to rely more on meeting deadlines as and when they occur find it rather demanding.
The more interesting side is gathering up and updating all our green information (even transport policy…!) but even this is pretty time-consuming. Inspections are never fun but it certainly is good being kept up to the mark, and forcing one to look critically at how one does things and how they could be improved. At the moment we have the Peak District Environmental Quality Mark and the GTBS Silver Award so we have standards to keep up! It would be ignominious to be downgraded but I don’t think we will be(?).
The other ‘excitement’ this week is the Regional AGM of the Peak District Premier Cottages group. This will be an interesting an convivial affair, with much to be discussed including what is apparently a hot topic in the self-catering world – whether to have an all-inclusive price or not. I think we all in our area are fervently all-inclusive: personally, I feel there is nothing more annoying and unsettling to discover that unexpected and unwanted extra charges suddenly appear (like booking a cheap flight on RyanAir when you discover there is actually a booking charge, per person, per journey… so their quoted rockbottom price is not the price at all, merely the starting point of a quickly much larger bill, sneakily arrived at). John and I like to feel that once our guests have paid the balance the embarrassing subject of money is behind us and finished with. We will greet you and think of you as genuine house guests and apart from your paying for your newspaper if you have one – which I think we’d all agree is fair enough – the subject of money doesn’t enter into the relationship at all…
Anyway, (we feel quite strongly about this!), another project that we have all got involved in is the Visit England 20.12 offer, which involves offering a special discount or extra, ideally worth 20.12%. We will be offering 20.12% off weeks in November and December (but NOT Christmas and New Year before anyone gets too excited); we are pretty well booked up until then except for odd weeks so it makes a holiday in these two months at the end of the year pretty good value.
To benefit from the discount these holidays have to be booked via the Visit England 2012 website, quoting a voucher code so keep an eye open for that. I think it is going live on March 8th.
We love dogs, and their owners, and we welcome dogs to Tom’s Barn, warmly and almost unconditionally. However, we do always stipulate ‘well-behaved’ and we do politely suggest that they don’t go upstairs or onto the furniture (unless it is adequately protected by dust sheets and old curtains which we do provide).
So, what is this all leading up to? And, no, we haven’t had a bad experience, not for a long time… What is worrying us is that on Wednesday we are having a carpet laid! Carpet, up the stairs and in the Tom’s Barn bedroom and no… we didn’t really want to do this having always tried as hard as we can to keep our two barns as charmingly ‘barnlike’ as we can rather than what in the circumstances would feel to us to be overdressed and inappropriate.
So what has brought on the astonishing change of mind you may wonder? Well, it’s status seeking, no less, or perhaps, status retaining. As you know, both our barns are annually inspected and given 5 Stars with a coveted Gold Award. In Tom’s Barn this is quite an achievement, accepting dogs as we do (although by no means all our loyal and lovely Tom’s Barn guests have dogs) and we are determined not to risk losing it, nor do we ever want to threaten the pleasure of any guest coming without a dog. At our last QiT (Quality in Tourism) inspection we were warned in no uncertain terms that to retain our Five Star status we had to do something about the wooden surface of both the stairs (bad, thanks to occasional sharp and slithering dogs’ claws) and the bedroom floor (mostly just general wear and tear and countless moppings but also what can only be the odd doggie claw mark).
We consulted Jason our decorator, David our joiner and various other experts who know about these things, hoping against hope that someone would have an attractive and workable solution. Very very reluctantly we have come to see that short of serious structural and extremely expensive reflooring which anyway would be impossible to achieve with little likelihood of a long enough gap in our wall-to-wall bookings which we can’t disrupt the only reasonable solution is what we hope will be attractive and hard-wearing carpet.
So three burly carpet layers from Nutts Carpets of Clay Cross are coming on Wednesday to lay the carpet. I say burly, but of course they may all be wiry and slim but what we do know is that they will be strong and they will be skilled because they will have to lay the carpet with the enormously heavy bed in situ; they also have the central pillar to work around. It won’t be a simple job. Guests are coming on Friday and everything has got to be spick and span and spotless so the pressure is on for the poor carpet layers and for us.
And once the carpet is down for all sorts of obvious reasons we will not want dogs up the stairs or in the bedroom, please. I know most people wouldn’t dream of letting their dog upstairs, here or at home but we do understand that for some dogs it is difficult: there is no door you can firmly shut and if they can hear and see you upstairs they may find it hard to understand that they aren’t welcome. Fortunately we now have a permanent stair gate and we do ask your cooperation not just for our peace of mind but for all our guests as well, those with dogs and those without.
John this evening took a few before shots of the carpetless wooden surfaces; all being well tomorrow we shall have some after pictures which we will all be happy with!
There is still time to book a last minute Christmas get away in Douglas’s Barn. The weather may be cold but the barn is very warm and cosy. Why not treat yourselves to a get away from it all break. You can order all your supplies from one of the supermarkets, get it delivered and […]
Time to get a bit of relaxation before the Christmas mayhem. There are still short breaks available in Douglas’s Barn. Plenty going on in the Peak District. Lots of Christmas markets selling lovely gifts that you don’t see elsewhere. Chatsworth House is also a must at this time of year. There are plenty of stories […]
Lots of events to go to in and around Parwich today but managed to get to the Horticultural Show in Parwich and the Hartington Show. Missed out on the Antiques in Ashbourne though which is always worth going to. Izzy did better than me by getting 1st prize as the Prettiest Bitch at Hartington Show […]