In 2012, Four years after being appointed by the bank to see the run-down Droitwich Chateau Impney hotel through administration, a new owner gave GM Ben Elder the opportunity to restore the Grade-II listed chateau — dating back to 1875 and last refurbished in the 80s — to its former glory. He shares the ups and downs of the 12-month, £2m transformation
SEE OLD IMAGES OF THE HOTEL AND THE RESTORATION ON THE CHATEAU IMPNEY WEBSITE
Winter 2012: I took on the historical chateau
The hotel went into administration in November 2009 and I was appointed by the bank to look after the hotel operationally. The administration ended up lasting four years until the current owner Greyfort Properties bought the hotel in June 2012.
The new owners are property guys rather than hoteliers so they asked me to stay on and we talked about where we wanted to take the property. We decided what kind of product we wanted to offer — a corporate bed factory Monday to Friday and leisure at weekends, or an event-led property, or an upmarket high-yield property. We decided the best way to move it forward was a mix of all of those.
Chateau Impney is one of the finest, most authentic examples of French chateau-style buildings in the UK. Dating back to 1875, it was originally constructed as a private residence for John Corbett, a wealthy Droitwich businessman, before being converted into a hotel in 1928.
We knew we needed to spend some money refurbishing it, we wanted that to be very sympathetic to the overall architecture and feel of the place so we’ve restored rather than replaced where we can. We earmarked £2m for the renovations to start with.
Spring 2013: We reflected and restored
By the time we had recruited staff, appointed contractors, had the scheme drawn up and sourced products we were into November and that’s a nightmare month to start any customer-facing refurbishments with Christmas around the corner. So we worked on the back-of-house areas to begin with; put new kitchens in, purchased crockery, glassware, replaced the boilers. In January, we started our rolling schedule of refurbishments. The main lift is being replaced, which is a big job because it was put in during the 1970s so the shaft isn’t the size people use today, we’ve had to have a lift custom made to fit.
Our challenge has been two-fold. In terms of the renovation, the biggest challenge has been making sure we protect as many of the historical features of the building as possible because it’s a really important building in the local community and in Worcestershire. John, who built it as a private home, was a real patron of the county, an MP, he did a lot for charity. We’ve got his photo album on site showing the interior and exteriors of the building so we’ve restored original features pictured, from mouldings on doorframes to coving in ceilings. Some of the photos are on our website and the album is on display in the hotel.
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Summer 2013: We made good and marketed
The hotel languished throughout the administration and for quite a few years before it, so the second challenge was repositioning the hotel because it was very much stuck in the muck. That’s not something you can just throw money at, you have to get out and get your hands dirty and go and meet people and show them around. So that’s been a really challenging part of the job.
The highlight of it all has been knowing the hotel from when it went into administration — when it was so tired, so run down, neglected and the staff were unmotivated. The business stayed this way throughout the administration because there were no resources, but if I stand back and look at where we were on day one when it was bought, and where it is now — it’s really satisfying. It’s come a million miles from where it was. The new lift came at the end of November and we opened our restaurant, we’ve designed it to be a destination within itself because there’s a demand for that and a property such as Chateau Impney deserves more than a standard corporate hotel brasserie. In January and February we’ve got one last set of nine bedrooms to do and some minor works to the public areas, but by the end of quarter one 2014, we reckon we’ll be ready to run.
Autumn 2013 onwards – We’re planting and planning
Now we’ve got two big initiatives we’re working on. The owners are very community minded and want the place to be more than a corporate offering so one of the things we’re doing is the parkland. The hotel is set within 110 acres of land and when John originally built the place as a home, he landscaped it creating tropical forests, waterfalls and streams. He planted samples of trees from all over the world and created a huge collection and we’ve got his original plans. We can’t replicate them exactly but what we’re doing is opening the parkland again — taking the fences down and the hedgerows out and replanting a lot of the same trees he used. So it’s a good thing to do for us and the owners are very keen that local people in the county should be able to enjoy it.
The second initiative is marketing, which will support the sales drive giving exposure to the events facilities we have and our weddings packages. The year before the new owners bought the property the hotel did three weddings, we’ve got 38 on the books for next year already, so it’s been a real strong focus for us. We’re estimating 15-20% of next year’s top-line sales will be delivered by weddings, but that rises to 40% by the end of our five-year plan.