Thirty thousand bed nights, countless cooked breakfasts and new friends every season: this December marks five years since we took over the hostel from the YHA.
Then, it was a tired and slightly run down place with a roof that needed urgent attention. Now, it’s a bright and lively popular hostel with a wide cross section of visitors, new washrooms and showers and lots of other home comforts. And a reinforced roof.
What stayed the same is our staff team, Nick, the manager, who’d already worked here for more than 20 years, and Charlie, who served our breakfast on our first, incognito visit when the hostel was up for sale.
Back then, we had no idea what we were letting ourselves into when, from far away in Hong Kong, Christine spotted that the YHA had put Elterwater up for sale.
We’d often thought about, and even looked at, buying something in the Lakes – perhaps a holiday cottage we could rent, and use. Our son Adrian distinctly remembers “wasting” days of family holidays looking at cottages we couldn’t possibly afford. But we had always loved Elterwater; Christine and Alan both stayed at the hostel in their school days, and Adrian took his first steps in Elterwater in the early 90s.
A review of the books showed a business in decline, turnover down by £20,000 over the previous three years, and an ever dwindling profit. Undeterred, and ever the optimist, Alan was confident turnover could be recovered, and a profit turned, with a relatively modest increase in occupancy, This, coupled with the YHA’s apparent preference to sell to someone who’d keep it as a hostel, meant we felt it might be worth a go.
Rumour had it that the hostel needed £400,000 spending on it to bring it up to standard but Alan arranged a structural survey: yes, there was some rotten wood, especially in the roof, but the estimate was way beyond what we thought we needed to spend. We’d be fine to make some investment immediately, and then do the rest over time.
The next step was to have a look – it must have been 30 years since either Alan or Christine had been inside. We booked in to the hostel ‘incognito’ for the night of 5th September 2013. We had a great night’s sleep, so good that Christine questioned why we ever stayed in ‘posh’ hotels. The weather was good, and the sun was shining.
We loved the hostel and decided we wanted to keep it open if we possibly could. We enjoyed a very fine breakfast served by Charlie – who by now had rumbled us. We had a lovely chat with her and also met Nick. Our minds were made up; we submitted our bid that day, just hours before the deadline.
Our sealed bid won the auction, and we were immediately hit by the realities of what needed doing and the complexities of running a small business – not something we had much experience in. Legal issues, fixtures and fittings, accounting systems and booking systems, a new web site and logo,and finding a builder to fix the roof. But with great pride we brought into existence Elterwater Independent Hostel.
Five years on and the business is well established with a wide cross section of people using the hostel for all sorts of reasons. We retained a number of regular group bookings and attracted plenty of new ones. Nick and Charlie are still here, and we have welcomed several seasonal workers including Andy, who has just committed to his third season with us next year.
Our investment in the business has grown as we continue to push profits back into making the hostel as good as it can be – we’ve completely refurbished washrooms and showers, added a new ensuite facility downstairs, plus new soft furnishings, carpets, mattresses and duvets as well as Wi-Fi throughout the hostel and individual bed-lights.
The hostel has become more than a business for us. It’s truly our home from home, and as family, we’re all even more in love with Elterwater than ever. Christine invited friends from all over the world to celebrate a big birthday at the hostel, and Adrian and our daughter Alison and their friends visit regularly. Alison remains the only one of the family to have ever done a full day’s practical work here – Charlie thinks the rest of us would be rubbish at cleaning the toilets!
The challenge now is to maintain this momentum. The fundamentals of the business remain unchanged. We continue to offer a great night’s sleep in a wonderful location with a super breakfast, the very things that clinched our decision to buy the hostel in the first place. We are indebted to Nick and Charlie, and all our staff throughout these five years, for embracing all the changes and for continuing to provide excellent front of house customer service. Here’s to the next five.