I remember the first day we opened to the public when I was just 10 years old and now, sadly I have the memory of the day that we closed to the public, albeit temporarily. It’s not something that I ever thought would happen but as part of the global effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 it was important for us to do our bit. The task of closing and mothballing the business has helped us to preserve and suspend so that we can rapidly pick up where we left off as soon as it is safe to do so. This was a particularly emotional task. It was important to remember though, that we mothball the things we love and want to use again.
What changes have you had to make?
The majority of our 400-strong workforce have been furloughed and with an active team of less than 20 people we have been working around the clock to ensure that Whittlebury Park is kept safe, secure and ready for when we can welcome back our teams and guests once again. These commercial and finance functions have been working remotely for the past 13 weeks and continue to do so until we are able to open our doors. It’s been great to see teams having weekly Zoom calls, quizzes and generally keeping in touch throughout this which reinforces my thoughts that Whittlebury really is one big family. The safety, health and wellbeing of our incredible teams and loyal customers is what matters most.
What have you been doing to support the staff at Whittlebury?
We have had a staff shop onsite since before lockdown – in the early days when it was difficult to get essential supplies this was a lifeline to our teams and their families that they could get essentials like bread, milk, pasta, toilet rolls. Last year we trained some of our staff to be Mental Health First Aiders and those of them that continue to work have been supporting those staff that are on furlough. It’s incredibly important that during lockdown we have been able to provide this to our staff. We also produced a video of all the things that we have been doing around the hotel so the staff could stay in touch and see what’s been going on.
And what about the guests?
Our commercial teams have been working very hard to move guests’ bookings, and respond to guest queries – often working weekends and late evenings to ensure everyone is responded to. On 18th May we were allowed to open our golf course once again and that, combined with the good weather, was great to see so many people want to come back to Whittlebury and get out on the championship golf courses and enjoy some social distancing. We’re currently working on a new contactless app which will allow our golfers to order food whilst they’re out on the golf course and have it ready for them to collect at the end of their round. Our maintenance teams have been onsite during lockdown and been able to get on with some projects that would normally have caused interruption to the business, such as draining the hydrotherapy pool and decorating the Heat and Ice areas along with decorating our female leisure club changing rooms.
What are your next steps?
We are waiting for the government to communicate the opening guidelines for hotels and spas so that we can open safely for our teams and our guests. We’re working hard on our Park Pledge that will be transparent for all our guests to see what we’re doing to ensure their health and safety is at the forefront of our operations when we’re finally able to open again.