The Painswick is the newest opening for the Calcot Collection, a group which is fast becoming a hospitality pioneer of the Cotswolds. The new hotel is bold, confident and funky and makes no apologies – just serves up fantastic service with a slice of quirky design that strikes the right balance between comfortable and unconventional. We sat down with new general manager Luke Millkin – who ever since the age of seven knew he wanted to be a hotelier – to discover how the rollercoaster journey from acquisition to launch has been so far.
For inquisitive guests who find themselves on the landing page of the website for new boutique hotel, The Painswick, they are greeted with a short summary of the property that is almost guaranteed to turn deliberations over a booking into a done deal.
It reads: Our house is home to a restaurant that flaunts the very best of consummate cooking, sweet sixteen bedrooms that whisper peaceful slumber and the most perfect pair of tranquil treatment rooms prepped and ready for retreat.
And while the age old saying of over promising and under delivering is in the back of the mind of any hotelier worth their salt, for The Painswick any concerns are instantly dispelled as soon as guests feast their eyes on the property, and from there it only gets better.
Newly opened just over six months ago, The Painswick is the fifth property in Calcot Collection, which consists of beautiful boutique Barnsley House and the Village Pub, family favourite Calcot Manor, plus Lord Crewe Arms up in Northumberland. The hotel makes up the portfolio’s ‘Cotswolds triangle’ alongside Barnsley House and Calcot Manor and just a few months into its launch, is blowing all expectations out the water.
“It’s been intense!” says general manager Luke Millikin. “Where’s that time gone? First and foremost it’s been really popular; we’ve had great feedback. We are busy and testing and tracking the success. It’s about doing it in a strategic and tactical way too; at no point have we tried to go too big, we’ve gradually built it up so we can do things well consistently.”
Previously named Calcot 88 under the ownership of Phil and Val Harris, the property was acquired by the Calcot Collection in April 2015 for an undisclosed sum and almost immediately closed its doors for an epic refurbishment to take place.
From the get go Richard Ball, chairman of Calcot Collection was confident about the bold statement that The Painswick would make when it finally opened and wanted to bridge the gap that had opened up between posh pubs and luxury at full tilt. The aim was for a hotel that comes with a ‘splash of luxury with a country cool-edge reminiscent of Covent Garden rather than Mayfair’ and for this it ticks all the boxes. The group’s interior design guru Nicky Farquhar got to work on making the plans a reality.
“Everyone has said ‘wow, you’ve really restored it back to how it should be’,” explains Millikin. “All the guests love how colourful , youthful and confident we are in a very good way. One of the best compliments we get from guests is that ‘we can’t believe you’ve only been open three or four months’ because it’s so slick and in tune.”
The 16-bedroom restaurant with rooms, as it’s now been positioned, really does have the wow factor in abundance and has introduced a new style of accommodation, full of surprises and delights, to the area.
Fun is the real key word here –with a neon light at reception to the illustrations of dressed up sheep to signal the female and gents’ toilets, every little detail has been considered. Not only that but the hand drawn maps of the area located next to wellington boots and walking jackets just go that bit further to make sure guests are really taken care off. Hand written notes and instructions inside the bedrooms give a real home-from-home feel too.
“We’re trying to aim for that Barnsley House experience when you arrive – feel like you’re arriving into a home and not too hotel,” says Millikin.
Aside from the aesthetics of the interiors, it’s the staff who are the real jewel in the crown at The Painswick. Millikin explains that while each staff member goes through the usual training regime – something that is shared between properties in the Calcot Collection – everyone is encouraged to be themselves and show off their personality and that’s become a major part of the culture at the hotel.
He says: “We’ve all worked at five-star properties where it is just lifeless and no fun, and we worked hard on the recruitment to get people who are genuine and are fun themselves. Our culture is so established in terms of the importance of being yourself and being knowledgeable. We say to the team, make sure you read the newspapers, watch the news, pick up what’s happening in the world, so when you are speaking to guests, you can converse about something and people will know you really care.
“We have seven golden rules of hospitality and that’s a Calcot-wide thing. We also share HR, practices, principles and it works in our favour as we can share best practice, plus the pros and cons for what each of us are doing and how we can make it better.
Millikin adds: “We love the challenge of finding things that aren’t as quite right as we want them to be and always making sure we go through the motions to make sure it is polished and sorted. It’s about having that synergy as a collection too.”
The Painswick inherited six members of staff from Calcot Manor and Barnsley House, which meant the culture of the company was already well embedded so they could help others immerse themselves in the philosophy. The hotel has been designed to be more confident, relaxed and humorous than its other Cotswolds’ sisters, with the staff kitted out in jeans and open collared shirts to give off a more comfortable vibe.
Targeting the market
With its bold mentality, it would be the obvious choice for The Painswick to pinpoint young people and the buzz word of the moment, the Millennials, as its target audience. But as Millikin explains, one of the biggest surprise since the hotel launched is the slightly older demographic coming through the doors and embracing it completely.
“We are still trying to find out what our target market is and how do we market our product to them,” says Millikin. “Our target is 28-45 years old, very South East, London, M4 and M25. They want good value for money, they want a great experience, they want good hospitality and they want to have fun.
“We don’t want to be pigeon holed – we are a restaurant with rooms, that’s what we are about.
“We’ve seen an older demographic coming in from the Calcot and Barnsley connection and they are loving it too. Saying, actually sometimes we don’t mind having less formality, and they embrace it.”
The village of Painswick is only home to just over 3,000 people and engaging with locals was a big aim when the hotel project began over a year ago. The area was undersupplied in terms of bars, and while there is no shortage of pubs in the area, the places for young people to go for a drink where few and far between.
Millikin says: “We had intended for the bar to become really popular with locals, but we didn’t realise how popular it would be. The great thing is the bar revenue is increasing dramatically and locals are really embracing it – it’s become a really vibrant cocktail bar now.
“The population of Painswick is actually quite young, there is a great blend and they needed somewhere cool to come. The only downside is the locals cannot get in here on a Friday and Saturday night we are just fully booked,” he adds.
Breaking down the barrier of a hotel restaurant and bar was top on the agenda prior to the launch of The Painswick, and taking away the stigma of a typical ‘hotel restaurant’ to really embed the business into the community. Millikin knew that ensuring the locals were on side was a priority.
“We went very strong and confident on targeting the local crowd long before we opened,” he explains. “So we attended some events at the end of last year in November to make sure we were in the public’s mind’s eye. Then a few weeks prior to opening, we had a few hard hat tours, where we invited about 100 local houses to come and have a look before we opened. Everything was still wrapped in cellophane; there was dust on the floor. We sold it as an exclusive Painswick offering – no journalists, no regular guests had seen it, it was just purely for the locals.
“Word then spreads really well and really quickly. Then it’s about going out into the village and becoming well known, getting to know the people in the pharmacy, the pubs, the shops.”
Simple foodie fare
The food operation at The Painswick is run by Michael Bedford, known for his role as chef proprietor of The Chef’s Table in Tetbury. Stripped back and relaxed are the themes of his menus with the focus solely on the quality of the food itself.
Millikin says: “We are not going to fine dining or accolades, that’s not the route we want to go down; we want it to be about good food and word of mouth to be prominent.
“We’ve noticed that some of our older clientele love some of the more youthful dishes on the menu, like the pizzas for example, and then often we get the younger crowd enjoying classics like steak and kidney pie with a good glass of wine, so that’s been really interesting. We want to make sure that whatever it is you’re looking for, we can deliver.
In just over six months, The Painswick has opened its doors for the first time, built up an impressive batch of local supporters, as well as carved its own niche in the hotel market in the Cotswolds. For Millikin, this is his debut general manager role and but his approach is far from that of a first-timer. Originally from a seaside town in Yorkshire – where the two career options were working in hotels or on the trawlers – Millikin eventually found himself working in four- and five-star hotels in London including The Athenaeum and The Grove. A move to Hampshire later and heaps of experience working in various departments throughout the industry, he felt more than ready for his dive into general management.
“I felt so excited for this – I couldn’t wait,” he says. “I wanted to open a hotel as GM, be GM – I had four or five things to do on my bucket list before I was 40 – to open a hotel as GM was a big tick for me, and to be part of this, something that I love and is brilliant and I really believe in, is amazing.
“We treat it like our own, rather than a hotel we work in. We are so proud of this place and we never get bored – we always do the brief on the terrace to remind staff that this is where you work,” he adds.
So after an impressive start out of the blocks for The Painswick, what’s next for the showstopper?
Millikin explains: “We will keep going strong with the restaurant offering, afternoon tea, and meetings and events. I want people to know that we are open to business.”