Happy New Year to you all. We were pleased to see so many of you in 2016 and hope that we will catch up with you again in Bath sometime this year, as well as welcoming new guests.
Those of you who read our last blog will know that we entered, just for the experience, the Access and Inclusivity category of the Bristol, Bath and Somerset Tourism awards 2016. We were amazed when we learned that we had been short-listed for either a Gold, Silver or Bronze Award. The evening of the ceremony arrived and Nici, Derek and Sue set off in all their finery on a journey which Google had reliably informed us would take an hour. Forty five minutes later we were still in Bath, sharing all those frustrations that our guests have when they can’t get to us. The only difference was that we couldn’t get out – and we knew where we going!
Finally, we arrived in the nick of time to sit down for a very nice dinner. Then our award was called first. All three short-listed businesses trooped up to the presentation area. The bronze award winner was announced. Nici and Sue got ready to collect it but – surprise, surprise!! – it went to the National Trust at Brean Down. For a nano-second, Sue dared to hope that maybe Three Abbey Green would receive the Gold and not the At-Bristol Science Centre. Unsurprisingly, it was not to be but we are all exceedingly pleased with the Silver.
Assistant Manager Flora was responsible for helping Sue with the preparation for making Three Abbey Green more accessible to guests with mobility concerns, so it is with sadness but understanding that we have had to say ‘Goodbye’ to Flora, who has decided to return to her native Hungary. She has been with us for two and a half years and, in that time, she has continued to promote with great success our family-friendly, guest-centered ethos. It was the first time that we had appointed someone from outside the family in a key management role and she did a brilliant job. Hungary will be lucky to have her back!
Enter Kellie and Olly, our new residential assistant managers, who got off to a flying start by being part of the winning team at the guest house association quiz night on Sunday. More about them next time.
This is the question …………..now, we’ve had an award or two recently which were completely unsolicited (and made us very happy) but this one we’ve done loads of work to prepare for but had no expectation of winning. We just thought the experience would be good for us, we would learn from it and try again next year.
So, what is it? We entered the Bristol, Bath and Somerset Tourism awards 2016 in the Access and Inclusivity category and learned just the other day that we will win either gold, silver or bronze at the Awards Ceremony on October 19th. As we are up against the At-Bristol Science Centre and the Brean Down National Trust, we are pretty sure what our award will be! However we are all really excited – Nici is giving her party frock an airing, Derek is putting a knot in his black tie and Sue will attempt to wear something colourful to match the big grin on her face.
Sue has worked hard, with Flora’s help, to make Three Abbey Green as accessible as possible to those guests with mobility concerns and, as a family business, we have always welcomed families with children, the elderly and guests who may need a carer to help them enjoy our fantastic location in the centre of Bath. We are currently working on ways to help guests who have visual or hearing impairments.
Then, completely out of the blue, we found we had won another award. We have been selected as a winner of the 2016 Experts’ Choice award. Each year, TripExpert recognizes the best hotels around the world with this award, based on professional reviews from over 70 top travel guides, magazines and newspapers. There’s no doubt about it – Nici and Alan must be doing something right!
It’s lovely to win things but our core business is providing the best possible experience for each and every guest and for this reason we were contacted late last year and asked to host the winners of a competition in America, called ‘The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen Sweepstakes 2016.’ The competition organisers had to be quite persistent with this booking because, as it was so unusual, we all thought it was a spoof! Finally, Nici got her head around it and decided that it was a genuine request.
Author Collins Hemingway, his wife Wendy and the two grand prize winners and their guests from the UK and the US arrived to stay with us for three nights on September 9th, their visit co-inciding with Bath’s Jane Austen festival. They were also celebrating the publication of Mr Hemingway’s newest novel, volume 2 of “The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen’ trilogy, which respectfully re-imagines Jane Austen’s life during the Regency era. We enjoyed the visit immensely and it was great fun to see our guests parading in their period costumes.
Now we wait for October 19th to see how we get on at the Tourism awards evening. We shall be mixing with some of the highest profile businesses and tourist attractions in the region – not bad for a little family business started in 2002!
Jam, Marmalade and the Children’s Hospice South West
Question: What have these three things got in common?
Answer: Our guests have raised over £2200 to support the local children’s Hospice by buying small jars of our jam and marmalade.
As a family business, we have always tried to work with and support other local businesses. By doing so we have met many interesting people in the area, since we took on our first guest house in 2002. We have worked consistently to eliminate the use of packaging and present our foodstuffs and our toiletries so that guests can use as much as they would like, without leaving a trail of opened containers and unfinished contents.
And this is how we came across Simi, who makes all our jam. Simi is from Tabriz, an Azeri region in Iran, where they have a long tradition of preserving. About six years ago, soon after arriving in Bath, on an autumnal Bath Skyline walk she happened upon a plum tree. She and her husband picked a rucksack full. When they got home, they ate a few (as you do!), then made a plum crumble to take to friends that evening. The next day Simi still had quite a lot of plums left over so made some jam, which she shared with her friends in Bath. Since then she has foraged, grown her own fruit or works in conjunction with Eades the local Greengrocer to produce her jam, who co-incidentally supplies all our fruit, tomatoes and mushrooms for our yummy guests’ breakfasts.
For us at Three Abbey Green, one of the great things about sourcing local homemade preserves from Simi is that we are never sure what delightful new concoctions will be presented to us next. Whatever is in season Simi can take from bush to jar to the breakfast table in no time flat. “Generally I make the jam within 24 hours of the fruit being picked,” says Simi. “We don’t have a freezer or a car, so I pick what I can carry home, then I deliver the finished product on foot.”
Simi has come a long way from her early days in Bath foraging plums. Simi’s website www.simiskitchen.co.uk is full of delicious recipes as well as information about her cookery classes and workshops.
Our story starts before Simi though. We were looking for someone to make marmalade for us. We didn’t have to look far – Derek volunteered his sister, Cherry. Fortunately she had just retired, so had a little extra time to help us. As soon as we began serving Cherry’s marmalade at breakfast, the guests wanted to take some home because it was so scrumptious. We got into the habit of ordering some large jars for the guest house and some small ones for the guests to purchase.
We knew from the off with Simi that we would need to order small jars for our guests to buy. And here’s where our guests have been so fantastic. Sue has a long history of working in the voluntary sector. She suggested that all the proceeds from selling jam and marmalade should go straight to the new Children’s Hospice at Charlton Farm in Wraxall near Bristol. As a family we agreed to donate the cost of making the small jars to the charity, so that Children’s Hospice South West would get all the money the guests gave us when they made their purchases. So far this is over £2200.
At Children’s Hospice South West (CHSW), the aim is to help and support children and their families who are living with life-limiting conditions. Some go there for palliative care, some for emergency care, many for planned respite and a rare opportunity for a break. Of course, there is also help with end-of-life care. The Hospice provides a loving and caring place for every member of every family who stays. It’s a sanctuary for Mums and Dads, brothers and sisters, who can feel isolated, scared and confused when there is a seriously ill sibling at home.
The Hospice is a fantastic place, often filled with joy and laughter, a place where families feel safe because they are with people who understand what they are going through and qualified staff on hand to support them. In an ideal world, this service would be funded by the tax payer but we all know that the NHS does not have sufficient funds to support all its services. CHSW receives ONLY about 15% of its’ annual running costs from the government – and this figure is variable and NOT guaranteed. The Hospice is totally reliant on public fundraising activities for the remaining 85%.
As a family, we have been so blessed in having healthy children and grandchildren. Sue’s seven years in Liverpool where she set up and managed the Ronald McDonald House at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital made her acutely aware how many families are not so fortunate. With the help and support of our generous guests, we will continue to do all we can to help a little bit. For more information about the amazing work of Children’s Hospice South West, please go to www.chsw.org.uk
It’s official – yet another award for Three Abbey Green…
…and for three of our rooms, not just the one for which I was hoping. In my last blog, I mentioned that we were due to have the Westwood Suite assessed to find out if we could advertise it as suitable for people with concerns about their mobility.
Three years ago, as one of the few accommodation providers in the heart of the city with rooms on the ground floor, we felt we should really make an effort to design the bathrooms paying more attention to the needs of less mobile users. Our rooms are all spacious with solid furniture, so I wasn’t too worried about them not being up to standard. The bathroom is much more tricky. Having worked in a previous life in a children’s hospital and a hospice, I became more aware of how difficult it can be to go away with someone who is not fully mobile. Also, being part of the ‘baby boomer’ generation and currently having my mobility restricted by an arthritic knee, I have noticed that we have more requirements that when we were younger.
The day duly arrived for the inspection. I went to answer the front door to find not only Kevin the assessor but he had brought with him Annette Burgess, Visit England’s expert on the National Accessible Scheme. They were impressed with what we have achieved in the Westwood Suite and then went on to look at the other ground floor room, Lady Hamilton, and as we have just put a new bathroom in Lord Nelson room, they decided to assess that room as well because it doesn’t have any trip hazards.
Three Abbey Green is now the proud possessor of the M1 award. If it hadn’t been for the four steps up to the front door, we could have applied to be assessed for the next level (M2). We took this opportunity to think about guests with a visual impairment and now have available the breakfast menu printed in a much larger font.
At the same time, the assessors also carried out a full ‘day visit’ accommodation inspection on Three Abbey Green, the Jane Austen Wing and Abbey View apartment. We are delighted to say that we retained our 4 stars with Gold Award. Next time they visit overnight and incognito.
I also mentioned in my last missive that the team had managed to find enough money in the budget for Smart TVs in Lord Nelson room, the Asher Suite and Abbey View apartment. Due to some clever squirrelling away of funds from the resale of the old TVs, Nici has managed to buy a new Smart TV for the Westwood Suite as well. So Kim, when you and the girls come on your annual visit in November, you won’t have to squash round the the old one to watch ‘Strictly Come Dancing’!
And, finally… two of our regular visitors from Dayton, Ohio, invited all our family to share in the celebration of their marriage in America’s Packard Museum on April 9th. What an opportunity but, sadly, we couldn’t make it happen. However, huge congratulations to Keith and Bill. We look forward to seeing you again soon.
Who said that? Architect Luke Jackson – and he should know! He came to stay with us the other day, wanting to show fellow architect and girlfriend Jade where he had spent nine years studying to get his professional qualifications.
He had first come across Abbey Green when drinking in the Crystal Palace pub – well, he was a student so I expect that over the years he came to know this beautiful, off-the-beaten-track area quite well. It is so unusual to find such a pretty, almost pedestrian-only square in the heart of the city, no more than 50 yards from the Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, Marks and Spencer and, of course, right outside our stunning Three Abbey Green guest house. Luke says that he still uses Abbey Green as a precedent for all his designs, so it really did make an impact.
Luke and Jade came to stay with us last month when it was relatively quiet. During January, we kept closing some or all of our rooms just to get the boring but essential maintenance and refurbishment done. You would be amazed what a military operation it is just to get all the carpets and curtains cleaned, without disturbing the guests. Thank goodness Alan has a spent most of his working life in the Army! Painting the kitchen had to fit between breakfast on one day and the next. Elinor Dashwood room in the Jane Austen wing has had some work to upgrade its bathroom but our flagship room, Lord Nelson, was closed for almost three weeks while we had a completely new bathroom fitted – and it looks absolutely fantastic.
The bathroom maybe quite small but our new design and plumbing team have made really good use of the space, done something technical to get the pipes running a different way so we could re-locate all the essential bits and now we have a contemporary look which enhances the spacious bedroom and lounge area. The sofa and chairs have been recovered and the whole look is one of classic, contemporary elegance. Over the years I have tried out most of the rooms but when I offered to roadtest this one for Nici and Alan, I was told it was fully booked for the next three weeks. Well, I’m sure our guests are in for a treat.
Doesn’t the pace of technological development drive you mad? It feels like no sooner have we replaced all the old, bulky televisions with the new ‘flatscreen’ variety and installed free wifi throughout all the buildings than someone has invented Smart TVs. Not wishing to lag behind modern technology, we have scraped up enough pennies to put these new-fangled machines in our largest rooms – Lord Nelson, the Asher Suite and Abbey View apartment. I’m sure the rest will follow if we have another successful year.
Our last project for this year is to be assessed for an award for the Westwood Suite, one of our ground floor rooms which we have tried to make easily accessible for people with mobility issues. As we are one of the few accommodation providers in the heart of the city with rooms on the ground floor, we decided two years ago to replace the bathroom. The lovely people at Total Bathrooms helped us to get the design to conform to current legislation. Now we wait to see if the whole suite passes muster with the mobility assessor. WATCH THIS SPACE!
Finally, 2016 has arrived, we have taken down the decorations and are looking forward to a cessation in the rain and Spring making an appearance. Fortunately, here in the centre of Bath, we are not defined by the weather. There is masses to do for everyone, no matter how young you are or what interests you. So come to stay with us and have some fun. www.threeabbeygreen.com
Who knew you could do T’ai Chi on the Terrace of the Roman Baths – just 50 yards from our front door? Check out www.romanbaths.co.uk
Or, in the Year of the Monkey, you and your family could help the Museum of Asian Art achieve The 100 Monkey Challenge by making origami monkeys on February 6th.
Or make indulgent chocolate truffles for Valentine’s Day. For more information, visit www.bathcakecompany.co.uk
Or go to the Makery to get that lovely sense of fulfilment from making things ourselves – in this particular case, learn how to do free-machine embroidery on January 29th www.themakery.co.uk
These are just a taster of the hundreds of different things you can do in the centre of Bath. Do go to www.visitbath.co.uk to look at the huge range of activities on offer.
Also our major Festivals return again in 2016.
February 12th to 19th, the Bath Digital Festival is back with a programme of events celebrating the local digital sector. Last year the festival reached 2,189 attendees with 120 hours of content delivered over 25 events. This year will be bigger and better than ever before. Recognised as one of the leading tech and creative hubs in the UK, the festival aims to showcase, educate and inspire the industries and people that make the sector great.
February 26th to March 6th, the Bath Literature Festival celebrates its 21st birthday. Secure a front row seat at an unmissable audience with much-loved broadcaster Joan Bakewell. Explore the links between fiction and history with award-winning Girl with a Pearl Earring author Tracey Chevalier. Enjoy a hilarious take on science with comedian and actor Ben Miller. Get the inside track on 21st century politics from Vince Cable. See an improvised Jane Austen novel created before your eyes at the sell-out Edinburgh Fringe show Austentatious. Plus Dom Joly, Alice Roberts, Patrick Barkham, John Suchet (on Strauss), Harry Leslie Smith, Cameron at No. 10 The Inside Story & The Twenty One Best Coming – Of – Age Novels.
The Bath Half Marathon (13 March 2016) is one of the longest established and most popular city centre road events in the UK. It is also one of the largest charity fundraisers in the South West, raising over £1.4 million for charity last year alone. The course itself is fast and flat making it suitable for all abilities – for beginners whose key objective is to complete the course, to more regular long-distance runners looking to beat their personal best time. It covers a two-lap 13.1 mile (21.1km) traffic-free course straddling both sides of the River Avon, with a configuration that ensures crowd support and excellent opportunities for spectators to watch the runners at a number of locations around the course. Both the ‘Bath Half’ and the Family Fun Run start and finish in Great Pulteney Street, in the heart of the World Heritage City of Bath.
April 1st to10th, the eighth annual Bath Comedy Festival in 2016 has over 100 events. With more acts than ever before in both the core curated programme and the open programme, Bath will host an eclectic mix of both well-known and up-and-coming comedy performers, and includes the inaugural Kids’ Comedy Festival.
April 18th to 24th sees the return of Bath in Fashion. “Bath is Different ….as regional fashion weeks go, Bath in Fashion is in a league of its own” Claudia Croft, Sunday Style Times Magazine. Bath has long been a fashionable destination, a place to see and be seen. In 2015 the city continued to flex its stylish credentials and attracted the international fashion pack who shared their style secrets and made last year’s Bath In Fashion event another jam-packed affair.
Bath International Music Festival is back and better than ever! Running 20th May – 30th May 2016, it’s packed with an array of brilliant events.
Now I’ve whetted your appetite with things to do in the centre of Bath, book now to stay with us www.threeabbeygreen.com
December couldn’t be a busier month for us at Three Abbey Green. The Christmas Market finished on the 13th, a lucky number for us because on the concluding night of the Market, we were able to report 100% occupancy over all eighteen nights, plus the really exciting news – for the family anyway! – that forward bookings for the three weekends of the Christmas Market in 2016 mean that we are almost fully booked already, with just one room available on each of the first two weekends. There’s still space during the week, though.
This year, Sue was really disappointed to miss all our regular Market guests and has vowed to work all eighteen days next year. She has her sparkly cardi at the ready and her bed booked with Nici and Alan. Regular guests have always been important to us and as Sue, a founder family member, has worked for the past thirteen years, she has always looked forward to meeting ‘her regulars’ and making new friends, too.
With Christmas itself approaching we are closing for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, so we can have some fun with the rest of our family. The guest house will remain open, as usual for ‘bed only’ for those people who just need somewhere cosy, warm and clean, while spending the day with their family.
Then, replete with too much good food, we start the run-up to the New Year and welcoming 2016. We have three rooms available for a minimum stay of three nights, so if you are still looking for somewhere to see in the New Year, come and join us in the centre of Bath, where there are excellent local restaurants in abundance, almost all within walking distance. Just to entice you further, we have made all three rooms available with a ‘Hot Deal’ so you will be able to book at a discounted rate.
Checking our availability couldn’t be easier – just click on the ‘Book Now’ page and you can see exactly which rooms are available right through to the end of 2017. There are photos and full details of each room alongside the availability chart but do feel free to call us and chat through the options. Modern technology can make businesses like ours feel a bit impersonal, so please remember we are always happy to chat. Look out for ‘Hot Deals’ which will also show on this chart. There are often some great last-minute reductions to be snapped up.
Also check the ‘Special Offers’ page for some enticing ways to spend more than one night with us without breaking the bank. If you can stay for longer than three nights (not including Fridays and Saturdays), do please contact us directly to see if we have any special rates we can offer, particularly during the early months of 2016.
Do check out our new website, which has just gone ‘live’. The web address is the same www.threeabbeygreen.com It may not look new but, believe me, it has had quite an extensive makeover to try to make it even more user-friendly and completely up-to-date. Going through the old one with a fine toothcomb made us realise how everything changes, all the time.
The major change is the addition of a new page, called ‘About Us’. We love being a family business and consider our staff to be part of our extended family, so we have taken this opportunity to introduce everyone to you. We have become a three-generation business now that 10 years’ old Finlay is taking an active part, when he’s not at school or playing one of his many sports, not to mention deafening his parents, Nici and Alan, with trombone practice.
Some of you may know that the business has recently won a major national award from VisitEngland for Excellence in Customer Service. (Read about that here). The fact that it came as a complete surprise and was completely unsolicited made it very special. We could not have achieved this without the support of our staff, our extended family, who always go the extra mile to make sure the house is spotlessly clean, warm and welcoming.
Some things don’t change of course – we are not any easier to find when arriving by car! In fact, the council seems to find ingenious ways to re-route the traffic to make it even more difficult to drive in the city centre. Then parking spaces keep disappearing. Even Sue got a ticket the other day for parking in what used to be a perfectly legal space which had suddenly been suspended. Please do what we say on the website – download the file which has lots of information about driving to Bath and parking (click here to download). Please contact us so we may help you to decide on the most practical solution to finding us and parking your car. If you have any problems when you get to Bath, please call us. We will help you, either by talking you in or coming to find you.
The Bath Christmas Market www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk starts on November 26th for eighteen days, kicking off a really special run-up to Christmas in Bath. Our guest house is right in the heart of all this festive cheer and can’t be beaten for location, unless you want to drive to the front of the guest house. Mission impossible, I’m afraid, as we become a completely pedestrian zone. Abbey Green looks stunning with the beautifully lit Christmas chalets. The air is full of mouth-watering aromas – mulled wine, hot sausages, roasted hazelnuts, spicy crepes. Parking to get to us becomes even less fun during this time as much of the on-street parking is allocated to Christmas chalets and the many extra visitors to the Christmas Market fill up the spaces in the three main car parks which are close to us.
The new website is still a work in progress and we would love to have your feedback on other things which would make it an even more useful tool or source of information.
The family is thrilled to announce that Three Abbey Green has been awarded a 2015 VisitEngland ROSE award in recognition of Service Excellence. This inaugural award has been made to only 100 VisitEngland quality assessed accommodation businesses that go the extra mile to provide excellent customer service. We are the only guest house in Bath to receive this award.
The award is open to businesses that are inspected annually by VisitEngland and it has been awarded to us, following observations by the assessors, backed up by excellent customer reviews.
The family is delighted to have been the first winner in this inaugural year. Derek went to London with Assistant Manager Flora to receive the award on behalf of the family. He said, ‘It is so exciting for the family and our staff to be recognised for always trying to go the extra mile for our guests. Until we were asked to attend the Independent Hotel Show in London, we had no idea that we were in line for an award and the fact that we were selected by outside agencies makes the award even more special.’
The award was made at a ceremony presided over by James Berresford, VisitEngland’s Chief Executive, who said that this award had been given to accommodation providers who gave their guests a wonderful welcome and showed great customer service. The winners were the crème de la crème in the industry. Derek and Flora received the award from Jenny McGee, Director of Enterprise.
The family business was started in 2002 when Sue Wright and Derek Merkl bought another city centre guest house. Three years later they bought Three Abbey Green, when daughter Nici joined them in the business just as she was about to give birth to son Finlay. He has vowed to keep the business going when he’s a grown-up! Finally son-in-law Alan joined the business in 2012 when he left the army.
Sue is amazed that this small family business has been noticed and gained recognition at national level. ‘We have never put ourselves forward for any industry awards, either locally or nationally, having considered ourselves just a tiny cog in Bath’s tourism sector. To think that we have attracted the attention of VisitEngland is such a huge accolade.’
Boss Nici added, “It can be quite tricky maintaining our high standards when we are also a busy family. The business doesn’t stop at 5pm so that we can have some family time with Finlay. We have to juggle evening arrivals, emails and phone calls with homework, taking the dog for a walk, trying to guess what time to have supper, bath-time and Finlay’s bedtime. Receiving this very special award makes all the juggling worthwhile.’
Alan said, ‘The ethos of the business has always been to try to provide the highest standard of accommodation combined with excellent customer service, reflecting our own expectations if we were the paying guest. Receiving recognition at this level is so rewarding.’