Finally there was light at the end of the tunnel when Boris Johnson announced they could reopen again from July 4.
But four months later hotels were dealt another blow with a new national lockdown resulting in the doors being closed to guests for a second time.
Yet despite this challenging time it’s currently business as normal behind the scenes as they get ready for one of their busiest times of the year – Christmas.
And Hawkstone Hall and Gardens, in Weston, near Shrewsbury, is no exception with hotel staff determined to bring some much-needed festive magic to the end of 2020.
“The support we have received throughout the pandemic has been nothing short of wonderful,” says events manager Laura Mitford. “The joy we get from welcoming our guests here is the motivation that keeps us going, and I especially can’t wait to welcome our guests back with the magic of Christmas all around at Hawkstone Hall.”
The team have spent months planning how to make this Christmas memorable for guests and were busy making to-do lists before the pandemic hit the country. In fact, staff started work pretty much as soon as all of last year’s fairy lights, decorations, and ornaments had been packed away.
“Believe it or not, our Christmas preparations begin in January,” Laura tells Weekend. “We use the previous year’s experience, get together and review the positives and negatives to ensure our guests are always getting the most magical experience. Then, we start putting our packages and menus together.”
Every year, with the help of beautiful decorations and trees filled with glittering baubles, which complement the property’s gold gilded ceilings and elegant furnishings, the 18th century mansion is turned into a winter wonderland.
“It takes one whole day to deck the halls for Christmas. We plan our decorations around each individual room to ensure we’ve really kept up with our aesthetics and marry our decorations to the décor. We also have a decoration meeting in October with our interior designer, Kay Petrouis. A lot of planning goes into it,” Laura tells Weekend. Staying in a hotel during Christmas offers guests the luxury of celebrating with their friends and family without having to lift a finger.
No one is forced to spend all day in the kitchen, stressing over whether the turkey is cooked or if there is going to be enough gravy to go around.
“It’s a real treat, an experience like no other holiday. We’ve described our hotel and packages as ‘Christmas, all wrapped up’ because it’s like a present in itself. And no washing up is a bonus,” says Laura.
A lot of time and thought goes into the venue’s festive menus which all feature local produce from the county’s countryside and include dishes such as Shropshire Bronze turkey, hearty winter parsnip soup and Baileys crème brulee.
“It’s been described as a culinary celebration. Food and beverage is big part of ethos here, which is why executive chef Andrew Watts starts the preparations in January. The menu takes elements of your favourite Christmas traditions, and flips them on their head with a contemporary twist,” explains Laura.
As well as ensuring all of the traditional trimmings are taken care of, staff aim to make sure every guest’s stay is a memorable one, from the moment they make their first enquiry about booking a stay right through to the big day itself. “We’ve worked really hard to create a home away from home experience for our guests. Cosy and homely, fires roaring, classic Christmas songs playing, really add to the magic of our relaxing haven,” says Laura.
She started her role at Hawkstone in February 2019, after working for five years at the hotel’s sister venue Weston Hall, in Staffordshire.
“I take care of all the weddings and events at Hawkstone. I’m there start to finish with any event or wedding that takes place and I love seeing the customer’s vision come to life.
“I take such pride in our beautiful building. One of my favourite aspects would be showing guests and wedding couples around Hawkstone, I love the customer reaction of seeing each individual room. Also, for me it truly is about making our guests feel welcome and enjoying their visit from start to finish,” Laura tells Weekend.
Despite the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the team is feeling optimistic about the future having spent time improving the venue’s range of guest facilities.
“It’s been tough for the entire hospitality and events industry, but the team have really pulled together and used the time to better the building, services and products. We managed to complete The Man Cave, perfect for grooms during weddings, open our brand new gym, and get a head start on the Spa coming now in Spring 2021. Productivity is key, and we couldn’t be prouder. The loyalty from our guests has also been overwhelming,” says Laura.
Now everyone is looking forward to the end of lockdown on Wednesday so the doors of the hotel can be reopened and celebrations for Christmas can get under way.
Laura say there is always “a constant sense of excitement and cheer in the air” during the festive season.
“There always feels like there is a buzz from our team to our customers. Every single guest treats every day in December like a celebration, and so do we,” she says.