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Belvedere House – Gill’s Experience of Setting Up a B&B

This article was submitted to me by Gill Horsfield, a Bed and Breakfast Academy Newsletter Subscriber, who is just in the process of setting up her B&B in the Forest of Dean.

It’s said: be careful what you wish for as you might just get it.

I’ve long dreamed of escaping the rat-race to run a little tea shop or holiday cottage. You know the sort of thing, a house in the country, working for yourself, nobody to answer to. Then, almost out of the blue, my husband gets a job offer – same organization, different part of the country. They would, they said, relocate us; pay the expenses but we needed to move quickly. Next thing I know, I’ve left my job and I’m in a car heading from the city to the Forest of Dean.

I knew I’d never get the sort of job I’d had in Southampton, so the idea of being self-employed once we’d moved, seemed tempting. We bought Belvedere House with the intention of my running a small B&B in the Gloucestershire village of Lydbrook. I’d spoken to the council before we made an offer on the house about the likelihood of getting planning permission. This was met with a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘wait and see, we can’t possibly predict’ approach. Problem number one and we haven’t even moved yet! Do we buy a house for a B&B and possibly be refused planning? Well, forever the optimist, my husband thought we should close our eyes and leap in – so we did. I’m pleased to say that after a 6 week wait, we were told that we had permission and our transformation of the house could begin – well, eventually.

There was always a niggle at the back of my mind about the suitability of this location for a B&B. There are very few guest houses in the immediate area; I deduced there could be 2 possible reasons for this: either the demand just wasn’t there or nobody had thought of it and we are about to make our fortune by cornering the market. The speed of our move meant we had little time to do our homework and besides, I really didn’t know what homework to do! We thought the river Wye outside our window and the Forest of Dean on our doorstep made it a fairly safe bet for such a venture and bought the house before we had chance to talk ourselves out of it.

One thing I will say, is that moving to an area of the country that you don’t know at all, particularly somewhere as laid back as this, can prove a little frustrating to a city-dweller. My vision of being open in time to catch a few autumn holidaymakers, it would give me 6 months to get organized after all, proved totally unrealistic. Not knowing anybody and very little about how things work in ‘these parts’ meant that the seemingly simple task of hiring a builder / plumber / electrician, took an age. If they bothered to turn up at all to look at the job, it was then a gamble as to whether they would actually put a quote together. The nicest of tradesmen were often never seen or heard from again, even though they seemed really keen. After many fruitless weeks, I finally managed to employ a great bunch of guys to carry out the work, but here I am, 8 months down the line and the house is still a building site; nobody is ever in a hurry here it seems!

I always wanted my B&B to be a little different to most I’ve stayed in. The modern, continental design of the house lends itself to the contemporary style, so this is what I’m aiming for. It’s also our home, so we actually have to like the way it looks and feels. The 2 guest rooms have been professionally designed to be comfortable and modern without looking too ‘hotel-like’ and I hope the finished result will appeal to a wide range of people. I love cooking, so although evening meals won’t be on the menu, I plan to offer a first-rate breakfast including home made bread, preserves and the best local produce I can find. This is great area for walking and outdoor pursuits, so a hearty packed lunch will also be on offer.

Even if the house had been just perfect when we bought it, there would still be all the business end to deal with. What did I know 12 months ago about running a B&B, or even about being self-employed? Nothing, zilch, not a thing, I’m a nurse for goodness sake. Well, I can tell you, my learning curve is so steep that it’s gone right off the top of the page, and I still feel like I know nothing. I’m thinking on my feet the whole time and am having sleepless nights wondering how it will all ever come together.

I’m due to open in early March and I can’t begin to tell you just how much there is to do. I know I need to be up and running by Easter to make a go of it this year, so I just have to get there somehow. That said, a recent piece of good advice made me stop and think. I was attending the first day of the Gloucestershire Welcome course. The trainer was asking me about my business and pointed out that however nice the premises are, however good the breakfast is, above everything else people always remember the welcome they receive. The most impressive thing you can do, she told me, is to smile. Well, watch this space and this face. I might burn the breakfast, the shower could fall off the wall and I might forget to make the beds, but whatever else happens, I’ll be smiling.

Perhaps this is one dream that might just come true after all, I’ll let you know.

Opening in March 2008 contemporary bed and breakfast accommodation overlooking the River Wye. Walking, cycling and canoeing from our doorstep in the historical Forest of Dean

Visit Gill’s Website Here