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Another summer begins drawing to a close with the weather in the South West being particularly good this year and one of the best August Bank Holidays on record. Little wonder that the British gin industry is booming!

Her ladyship and I stepped back from work for the last two weeks in order to help look after our grandsons, while their parents concentrated on their careers.

I don’t know who had more fun or was more tired at the end of each day, the boys or us. Days were spent on several of our amazing beaches, surfing, sand castles and the ritual being buried up to the neck. Ice creams and sea food renewed our energies. Time was spent teaching our 11 year old to drive my tractor and then trust him not to put it in a ditch – he didn’t and then we screamed and giggled whilst being bounced along the North Devon coast on a rib (rigid inflatable boat) looking at seals and dolphins. Wow!

We are fortunate in being able to be stand-in parents for the boys when they are on holiday but my heart goes out to working parents who haven’t got family to support them or can’t afford childcare.

Many sporting organisations are attempting to meet the need for family support, such as the initiative of the English Cricket Board this year, using professional cricketers to organise events for local youngsters.

Some rugby clubs, Rugby Tots and many other organisations arrange participation events for both boys and girls but this doesn’t fully answer the need to cover 8 weeks summer holidays, let alone the Easter and Christmas breaks.

For some years I have been aware of the problem parents have in balancing their work commitments with a safe haven for their children during holidays.

Running in parallel with this problem is the issue of an ever increasing, healthy retired population. Who doesn’t regularly see cyclists and joggers in their seventies and eighties? What are they doing when they are not outside keeping fit and what about the army of older people sitting down waiting for Old Father Time and his scythe?

Recently Channel 4 presented an inspiring mini series entitled, Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds. Do make a point of downloading this but some of you will want your tissues. Suffice it to say that the children had an amazing effect on the elderly folk in a retirement home near Bristol.

Do you see where this is going? An aging population in need of stimulation and the need to be needed and vast numbers of children requiring protection, care and structured time whilst the mums and dads are working.

To bring the two sides together would require significant organisation on a national basis but the prize is worth the effort. Elderly people out of their chairs, enjoying the company of children and feeling they can still contribute will have a significant impact on the national health bill. Children being supervised and cared for and running around outside will also help the health budget and reduce the incident of future impact on policing and the courts. All this can be achieved at minimal cost to the parents, whilst giving them peace of mind and reduced stress. WIN! WIN! WIN!

If you can make this happen for the country you deserve a knighthood, however your use of social media and the internet to raise these issues and promote the solution would make life changing differences. Thank you.

 

Do you spend enough time sitting quietly, just thinking and listening to your thoughts?

Hard work is to be encouraged and thankfully in the UK we are blessed with a nation of doers who have a serious work ethic. However, if we don’t take time to STOP, block out the extraneous white noise and just listen, we may be missing out on a great future.

Stephen and Bernadette are an example of the importance of finding time to be inspired. Having spent twenty years building up a small, successful retail business they decided to sell up and take a change of direction, albeit without knowing which road to take.

While their proceeds gathered dust in the bank they purposefully awaited for inspiration to point out their future direction. Several months later Bernadette’s cousin asked if they would be interested in a property based joint venture. He had acquired a large redundant nursing home that he was turning into apartments and preferred not to borrow more money for the venture.

So started Steve and Berni’s property business. Slowly over the next ten years they built a portfolio of letting properties, some residential and others, serviced offices. The bigger they grew the more work Bernadette had in running the day to day operation. Stephen got bored and a little left out.

Sensibly he decided to take himself off for a break in Cornwall and spend time walking the beaches, thinking and listening and trying out the many excellent restaurants and pubs that Cornwall has to offer.

When he returned he knew which road to take for the next phase of their business. They now concentrate on providing serviced accommodation with dedicated office facilities incorporated within the ‘bachelor apartments’.

So popular is this concept that they require Armada to finance the fit-outs and furnishings, including all the technical requirements for the offices, so that their profits can be used for property purchases and building works.

Fortunately for them, Stephen was prepared to take time to listen to his thoughts. Not for him the dull grind of the treadmill. He is always excited about where inspiration might take them next.

Being an hotelier is no bed of roses! Constantly having to be aware of pricing, market share, staffing, TripAdvisor and the rest of modern marketing and social media are all issues that lay in wait for us.

At times there is so much to think about that we can slip up on the obvious and forget that this is the hospitality industry.

Having been involved with hotels, extensively in the UK but also throughout the world for all my working life has given me experiences of the brilliant and not quite perfect hotel offering.

I like to think that I am a fairly normal hotel guest, certainly not too demanding, so what do I look for in an hotel that I will want to revisit.

Of course, the first impression counts, so a relaxed, friendly, smiley, efficient welcome is a good place to start.

After travelling to my destination, I want my room to be ready when I arrive and to find that housekeeping has done its job properly. After unpacking, the shower or bath is calling so that I can freshen up and change.

Here is where many hoteliers have taken their eye off the ball. Lovely large, white, fluffy towels are provided but where is the face cloth? Ok, I did think to pack one just in case but it’s so disappointing that the hotel couldn’t be bothered.

Never mind, the water is hot, so after drying off I jump into the bath robe, make a pot of tea and crash out for twenty minutes. How would you feel Mr Hotelier if the dressing gown your wife bought you for Christmas didn’t cover your nether regions or even meet up in the front. I must be careful not to walk by the window when I make the tea!

If you’re eating in, the whole question of food is very subjective, so if the menu doesn’t suit, it’s my own fault for not checking the iPad before I booked the room. But if you are using the restaurant, please Mr Hotelier, train your staff to know that customers are normally patient once they have a drink in their hand. If you are going to make your guests wait for a drink or the menu, you will probably be storing up niggles for yourself for the rest of the evening.

After a good meal and a decent bottle of wine I always go to bed happy, but sometimes not for long. Too many hotels in the UK are still expecting their guests to sleep on 4ft 6ins or 5ft spring loaded mattresses. Now neither her ladyship nor I  are that big, but please, king sized, memory foam mattresses in all rooms or stop calling yourself an hotel in the 21st century. How can we expect to attract more continental or inter-continental trade if we can’t provide the basics?

We need to consider that with a less robust pound, more Brits will remain in the UK and other nations will take the opportunity of favourable exchange rates to visit these near perfect islands.

If my blog hasn’t caused too much offence, do bear in mind that I have been funding hotels and their purchases of linen, beds, furniture, carpets, catering equipment etc. for over 40 years.

If you are thinking that perhaps it’s time to cut the bathrobes up for cleaning cloths or even turning them into flannels or giving your guests the beds they deserve, you know where to turn for finance, support and expertise.

 

 

The wonderfully diverse weather that we enjoy in the south of England is a real blessing to gardeners, hardly ever too cold, reasonable rainfall and our fair share of sun. However, it can make choosing the right time to take leave from the office a little problematic.

We decided to spend the first two weeks in June, catching up with the chores in the garden and spending time resting, reading and reflecting.

The weather for our first week was perfect for rolling up the sleeves and getting on with the ‘Chelsea chop’ while being surrounded by the first flush of roses this year (We are huge fans of David Austin roses).

By the end of the day, with the old bones creaking a little, it was very rewarding to soak in a warm bath with a large glass of chardonnay and plan the priorities for tomorrow’s schedule.

As the week came to an end someone turned the thermostat up and the south west of England went into shorts and ice cream mode. The heatwave lasted all week. There was nothing for it but to cease the horticultural endeavours and kick back in the shade.

It was good to stop and look around at the results of our previous week’s efforts. The borders looked blooming radiant. The alliums, Purple Sensation, were living up to their name, Nepeta was overflowing the edges and the blue Salvias and Geranium Rozannes were putting on growth as you watched them.

Recently Gardeners World viewers voted for the Golden Jubilee Plant of their choice. Not surprisingly, Geranium Rozanne came second behind everyone favourite, the rose.

Like summers of our childhood, day after day was spent with mug or glass in hand, soaking up the peace and quiet, which was only broken by the distant sound of silage making and the soporific sound of bees collecting their nectar.

For hours on end we watched our apian colleagues pollinating our plants for us and hopefully flying off to do the same for our farming neighbours.

With the serious decline of bee populations, you may want to do your bit to reverse the trend. When you are next in your local garden centre or nursery, remember that bees are particularly fond of plants that have blue flowers.

Geranium Bill Wallis and Verbena Bonariensis are both great favourites of bees and they have the added benefit of seeding prolifically throughout the garden, filling in the gaps for you. Your wallet will love you putting these plants in the trolly.

In our garden it is definitely the Nepetas that our friends make a bee line for. Plant a few of these and watch them grow dramatically. At the end of the season you can split the plant several times, increasing the chance for your plot to be the local bee heaven.

Depending on your soil and climate, one of the best attractors for bees and eye appeals has to be the Lavender. Choose a long-stemmed variety and plant it en masse, either in blocks or as an edging plant for paths or borders.

If you are not a user of Pinterest, open an account, it’s free, and tap into an encyclopedia of pictures and ideas for your garden. You could start by clicking on Armada’s Pinterest board, ‘Gorgeous Gardens’.

Happy Gardening

For 200 years David Sheppy and his family have been brewing cider in the heart of Somerset. Over recent years cider has continued to grow in popularity so that within the last century it has gone from being a mainly farm produced product that frequently could be detrimental to your health, to now being a mainstream beverage that no supermarket, corner shop or public house can afford to ignore.

Not content to sit back on their laurels and history, the Sheppy family has recently undergone a major investment in growth.

No longer are they just cider makers with a museum and tea shop. They are riding the crest of cider’s popularity and have added a very pukka Apple Bay Bar & Restaurant, together with an Italian styled deli and a butchery.

This is another example, like farm shops, where out of a small business, with determination, commitment and focus, the family have backed themselves and developed a quality product that is creating a new following.

Producing bottled cider, having a stylish eatery and a deli is a clever concept. I wonder how many people who drop in for a coffee or charcouterie board, then pick up a few bottles, some Italian pastries and a couple of steaks to take home.

David and his family are symptomatic of the amazing entrepreneurial spirit that is abundant in the UK; individuals and families, prepared to commit themselves and their resources to creating jobs and offering quality brands to their customers.

In case anyone should think this blog is a promo for Sheppy’s we would point out that there is no personal or financial connection between Armada and Sheppy’s. However, we do have a lifetime’s dedication to supporting and encouraging brewers, restaurateurs, deli’s and the retail industry.

Many congratulations to David and his team for the superb way they are developing new ventures to be signposts for others to follow.