The hospitality and wedding industry is amongst the hardest hit by COVID-19 and, with restrictions looking unlikely to ease this side of Christmas, businesses in the sector are facing the toughest trading climate they have ever faced. Senior Corporate and Business Services Manager, Laura Seaward, caught up with Aimée Carveth from Rockbeare Manor near Exeter to find out how the pandemic has been for them and how they are continuing to thrive with their new offering of ‘Dine, Stay & Unwind’.
Aimée is director of P. M. Hospitality Limited; a company which set up the beautiful Priston Mill and Coombe Lodge wedding and events venues in Bristol/Bath area. Andy Carveth, director, was instrumental in establishing these successful venues before teaming up with Aimée to add Rockbeare Manor to the collection.
Andy and Aimée, with over 40 years of hospitality experience between them together developed Rockbeare from an ‘at risk’ family home to a stunning, successful venue for special events on the outskirts of Exeter. With some beautiful rooms to hold a civil ceremony for up to 160 guests, in an idyllic setting and 13 beautiful en-suite bedrooms, Rockbeare Manor makes for a beautiful wedding venue but has also been successful in hosting many meetings and corporate events too.
The ratings online are incredible and everyone who has visited the venue speaks very highly of it. Before the pandemic Rockbeare Manor would hold between 2 and 5 events a week so when lockdown started a large number of weddings and events had to be postponed and the thriving business was put on hold.
Aimée told me that they never imagined that lockdown would last so long and restrict their business in the way it has. They originally postponed all the weddings until 1 July, expecting to be back up and running for the busy peak summer season but COVID-19 put a stop to that.
Before the job retention scheme was announced by the government Aimée and Andy were concerned as they have a huge, fantastic team that they very much wanted to retain. The furlough scheme and government grants really helped, as it did for the majority of businesses in the industry, but Aimée and Andy were keen to have a plan to keep their team’s jobs safe for when the furlough scheme ended in case weddings couldn’t be ‘back to normal’ by that point and didn’t want to have to rely on government funding.
Aimée and Andy spent lockdown planning their next steps.
Dine, Stay & Unwind
Where the venue had previously been an independent and private wedding/events venue, Aimée and Andy came up with the idea to open the venue to the public and allow people to visit to enjoy the stunning property, enjoy the incredible food their chefs could offer and have a relaxed overnight stay in one of the impressive bedrooms on offer whilst large weddings were on hold.
‘Over the summer, most hotels in Devon and Cornwall were full, with all of the high quality properties at capacity. Rockbeare Manor has amazing surroundings and could offer an incredible staycation’.
Dine, Stay & Unwind quickly took shape and they were up and running within 2 weeks of the idea forming, starting August with a bang. On 1 August they were live on booking.com and Airbnb and the word was out on social media and on 6 August the first guests came to stay!
Two weeks later Coombe Lodge followed suit and the success of the scheme continues to grow across both venues. They welcome a variety of guests and past brides and grooms have returned to enjoy the venue and reminisce about their weddings, as well as future brides and grooms who had postponed their nuptials because of the pandemic which was the perfect opportunity to give them a taste of what was to come!
Aimée noted that their team had risen to the challenge and developed new skills and confidence around event management that are going to complement their wedding services when back up and running.
Rockbeare Manor has held some small intimate weddings over the summer, with 15 guests as permitted by the recent COVID restrictions, enabling brides and grooms to hold more intimate weddings during the pandemic.
However, this size of wedding is probably not what couples had envisaged when they originally booked, nor is it sustainable long-term and Aimée confirmed that the team were keen to get back to bigger weddings when they can…. ‘to host important local events, to impress and to entertain, is what beautiful properties like ours were originally built for and we intend to continue with that tradition!’
Dine, Stay & Unwind will only be around for a limited time as Post- COVID-19 Rockbeare Manor, Priston Mill and Coombe Lodge will once again return to be stunning exclusive use venues, adding the WOW factor to any wedding or event held there.
I asked Aimée if she had any advice for others in the hospitality industry and how she had survived such a tough time. Aimée noted that for her she found it incredibly important to stay busy and find something positive to focus on.
Aimée wanted to develop her marketing skills so took the time she suddenly had on her hands to focus on what their website’s SEO score was and how to improve it, something which will hopefully add benefit to the business moving forward.
Rockbeare Manor is available for ‘Dine, Stay & Unwind’ into the Autumn and Aimée is happy to answer any queries you may have for using the venue for any events moving forward. More details can be found here.