Manager Nick explains what we’ve done to bring visitors back to Elterwater and make you welcome, and reflects on a strange season in the Lakes
‘Furlough’ and ‘lockdown’… the first, a word that if asked previously to define I would have suggested something agricultural. The second, a word I’d normally associate with a second-rate sci-fi movie. But not anymore… now words firmly embedded in my vocabulary.
If I’m honest, lockdown in this beautiful part of the world with very few people around and almost zero traffic was blissful. I certainly can’t complain. Instructions from our glorious leaders to exercise locally didn’t place too much of a burden either. Ever-present were all the same challenges as for everyone else, i.e. seeing family and friends and all the usual social interactions. Skype, Teams, Whatsapp, social media… where would we have been without them?
It was certainly odd seeing the place so quiet. The last time that even comes close to comparing was the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001. The obvious difference was that this was affecting human health, and the financial impact was global rather than to a few mainly rural areas.
I was furloughed at the end of March having enjoyed a week-long holiday earlier that month, skiing, walking and exploring in Norway. I arrived back to the early stages of the UK response, managing one trip to Liverpool for a concert before lockdown.
Then I spent about a week ‘closing down’ the hostel, dealing with cancellations of bookings and then preparing the hostel to shut down… a surreal experience especially as we’d only just fully reopened after the switch from our winter business pattern.
Much of the rest was played out in everyone’s lives and on the news.
A return to work in June was welcome and I enjoyed the challenge of making the hostel ‘COVID secure’. The ‘reopening’ of the area was a very mixed bag. The hostel was still closed under the restrictions, but rapidly growing visitor numbers caused mixed feelings among the local population.
There was a feeling of isolation and vulnerability among some of our older and isolating residents and the emergence of an apparent new type of visitor. These new visitors seemed unaware of the need to clean up after themselves and respect the environment, causing some conflicts with more careful visitors and residents.
This still prevails now in August, with significant problems caused by litter, poor parking, damage caused by portable barbecues and trespassing. I admit to be looking forward to the end of the holidays and the return of our ‘normal’ visitors who respect the area. It’s great that new people are getting to see the Lakes, but I’m not sure all appreciate it in the way our traditional visitors do. Hopefully there’s a balance to be found; we certainly want to make you welcome.
The boost to some elements of the local economy is welcome but others, including ourselves, are still severely restricted in how we can operate (none of which I disagree with) but it does make for very challenging times for a small business
The regulations prevent us from having the self-catering kitchen open, showers have to be allocated to ‘bubbles’ to reduce the chance of cross infection, guests affirm that they are COVID symptom free and we have a programme of frequent disinfection of touch points e.g. light switches, door handles etc.
We have portable screens that we can use to separate and protect guests and sanitiser stations located around the building and, in accordance with most recent changes, are requesting that guests wear masks in public areas when not eating or drinking. So far everyone has been happy to comply and a fairly relaxed atmosphere prevails.
During all this I have been involved, as usual, with my local mountain rescue team. That too has presented many challenges, not least the need to protect team members and the team operation from the virus while dealing with a fairly significant increase in incident numbers.
We’ve been pushing our #beadventuresmart hashtag and www.adventuresmart.uk via social media to try and alert visitors to the need to keep safe. The jury is still out on whether that has been successful or not.
So where are we now? We’re up and running, albeit in a limited way but there’s little by way of light at the end of the tunnel. It’s good to be able to make you welcome again and though it’s a different experience than any of us are used to, we’re trying to make it as normal and enjoyable as we can.
Feedback so far suggests our guests are generally as happy as usual, happy to comply with restrictions and feel safe and comfortable. It looks like we’re in this for a while yet, and the next challenge is how to function efficiently and sustainably through the winter season, since it’s looking unlikely our normal successful model of welcoming groups will be possible.
And then to 2021… the challenge continues …and we won’t speak of home haircuts!