Preserving the soul of England
The Inn Collection Group operates numerous inns in the North East near some of the country’s most beloved tourist destinations. Feeling confident by the excellent year-on-year growth it has achieved, the company is ready to open new units in other regions
The North East is a part of England, which has been blessed with a blend of breathtaking natural beauties and historical sites laden with cultural significance, which, combined with its proximity to the border with picturesque Scotland, turn the region into an enticing holiday destination. And what better place to make your temporary home, while admiring the scenery of The North York Moors National Park, or the majesty of the Durham Cathedral, than a classic, traditional inn, just the type known to the British traveller for centuries?
Founded just over ten years ago, in 2007, The Inn Collection Group already owns and manages a total of eight inns in the North of England, and given the rapid development of the company, we can soon expect announcements for new acquisitions, with the business eager to expand into different geographical areas. The Inn Collection Group’s Managing Director, Sean Donkin kindly agreed to introduce to us the company’s activities: “We started with just one site, called The Lindisfarne Inn in Beal, and in 2008, we purchased and developed The Bamburgh Castle Inn,” he begins. Fast forward to 2012, when the company built The Hog’s Head Inn in Alnwick, named after a pub of the same name featuring in the Harry Potter books and films. Offering 53 spacious en-suite bedrooms, the inn is in close proximity to Alnwick Castle, an 11th century building, which fosters the Harry Potter connection further, as it doubled as Hogwarts in the first two films of the franchise.
A year later, The Inn Collection Group established two key strategic partnerships with private equity investment firm Kings Park Capital (KPC), as well as with Santander Bank. “These allowed us to buy and redevelop The King’s Head Inn in the village of Newton under Roseberry,” Sean comments. “In May 2015, we bought The Seaton Lane Inn, and in 2016 – The Kingslodge Inn in Durham, which also underwent full redevelopment. Last but not least, in July 2016, we opened The Commissioners Quay Inn in Blyth, in partnership with Northumberland County Council’s development company, Arch,” he adds, thus finishing his review of the company’s locations.
Reporting an exceptionally strong year in 2017 with solid year-on-year growth, Sean puts this down to the fact that last year was the first since inception, in which The Inn Collection Group was not involved in new acquisitions. “We managed to cement ourselves as a trading platform, without having to think about different projects, and this allowed us to focus entirely on the future and the potential growth of the business.”
The new year started with the temporary closure of The Seaton Lane I nn for approximately three months, which saw the complete refurbishment of 18 bedrooms and the reconfiguration of the dining and bar areas, together with the setting up of an expansive orangery to give a more contemporary feel to the inn. Just 20 minutes away from Sunderland, it benefits from a convenient location that enables visitors to use it as a veritable headquarters ahead of their explorations of the region, which might include visits to signature Sunderland buildings, such as the Edwardian-age Sunderland Empire Theatre, the local Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, or perhaps the stunning landscape of the Durham Heritage Coast, less than ten miles from the inn. Superior standards Further refurbishment has been planned to take place in 2018 at some of The Inn Collection Group’s other sites. Eight bedrooms will be overhauled at The King’s Head Inn, and another 21 will be upgraded at The Kingslodge Inn. “In addition to this, we have just bought two adjacent cottages for The Bamburgh Castle Inn, which ill be converted into 13 new bedrooms. We are planning to invest in a total of 21 rooms there this year,” Sean outlines the scheduled development of the group’s top-performing unit in Seahouses, which overlooks The Farne Islands, Bamburgh Castle, and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
Speaking of the highlights of the year, however, it seems that hardly anything can top the opening of the company’s new £4.2 million location – The Amble Inn, as the most important event of 2018 for the business. “It is a new, purpose-built building that is scheduled to open in October. It will consist of 30 bedrooms and another key facility is the playground we have designed so children can also enjoy the environment,” Sean details. The coastal town of Amble and its surroundings provide plenty of fantastic spots for tourists to enjoy, such as the spectacular stretch of coast, called The Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the impressive Warkworth Castle – once home to rebel Harry Hotspur, a well-known character in Shakespeare’s Henry IV play.
Sean insists that The Inn Collection Group is absolutely specific about its target market groups, and recognises sticking to these as one of the company’s biggest strengths. “First and foremost, it is key to know your customers and give them exactly what they require. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, but just make sure that our standards are superior to those of our competitors. We specifically target the middle demographic and offer rooms of a 3-star standard. In fact, they are probably at a higher level, but we define them as 3-star, because this is where our target customers normally stay. Similarly, we are not a fine dining experience, but serve freshly cooked pub food,” he explains. “People continue to visit our inns, because of their satisfaction on the first visit. We are rigorous in our systems, in order to ensure that the customer gets a first-class experience. By doing that, we can expect a subsequent visit to follow. Traditional is timeless and it is not influenced by modern trends. It is the consistency of the offer that matters most to our customer groups.”
With a view to the future, The Inn Collection Group is currently building its own training academy that will help staff develop their skills and qualities. “It is really about creating careers for people who are interested in the industry, and want to progress beyond the level of supervisor, or even General Manager,” Sean points out. “Following the core training we can provide, our people will then be supported by an NVQ system, which will allow them to obtain the necessary qualifications to advance their careers. Our industry has historically been guilty of just providing a form of income, rather than a true career path, and we have got so many good people working for us that we feel, we owe it to them to progress their career and knowledge further.”
As if to confirm Sean’s words, the staff recently proved its outstanding work ethic, when it turned the restaurant at The Lindisfarne Inn into a refuge for 50 travellers, who had abandoned their vehicles due to the severe weather conditions that befell Northumberland in early March. Even though the inn had been fully occupied at the time, duvets had been spread across the pub, and food and hot drinks offered to those hampered by the weather, with some members of staff working 18-hour shifts to help these people. “It is a heart-warming example of the important role pubs play in the community and how, in adverse times such as these, people come together to support each other,” Sean praises his team.