What a difference a decade makes
The Herring family celebrate 10 years of ownership of Washingborough Hall this month. Caroline Bingham spoke to them about their journey to creating one of the county’s most successful wedding venues and hotels.
Talking to Edward and Lucy Herring, it seems the decade has flown by but also given them chance to reflect on their achievement.
“We had owned a very busy public house and restaurant previously where 100 covers each evening was the average,” explained Edward. “On our first evening at the Hall we had no diners in the restaurant so we knew we needed to put in place our business plan as quickly as possible. We had a clear idea of the potential of this beautiful country house and its setting.”
Washingborough Hall had, over the previous thirty years, been a guest house, nightclub and twelve-bedroom hotel. With a detached, refurbished house in the grounds for the Herrings and their three daughters, Alice, Darcey and Ruby, all under 5 at the time, it resulted in the family living and working on site for the next seven years.
“On day one, 30th October 2008,” said Lucy, “we had fourteen employees, twelve bedrooms, two weddings booked for 2009 and were in the middle of a recession. Fortunately, the staff were completely on board with our plans and we began by offering total flexibility of ourselves, the venue and the kitchen for weddings and special occasions. Couples could come and have a bespoke menu, décor and theme and during that first year we hosted fifty-six weddings.
“Our staff were fantastic when it came to turning the rooms around from Civil Ceremony settings to dancefloors and reconfiguring them at the end of a long day for breakfast the next day. I remember it was hard work but also exciting to see what we could achieve for clients.”
Lucy has led front of house while Edward has focussed on the longer-term ambitions for the business – tactics and strategy – and milestone investments have added to the Hall’s appeal and flexibility as a wedding venue. “The fabric had been neglected,” said Edward, “so refurbishment of the public spaces to create a welcoming, country house feel were first priority.
“Secondly, we brought our knowledge of hospitality to work with our chef to focus on good Lincolnshire food. They were enthusiastic to be creative and busy and we were soon attracting diners from the village and beyond. I think our food, under joint head chefs Mark Cheseldine and Anthony Smith is now in the best place it has ever been, achieving many local awards as well as a 2AA Rosette.”
In 2015 a further bedroom was created plus the addition of the elegant orangery, The Winston Room; double the number of guests could be accommodated plus a new bar, hard flooring and a wet weather solution for all occasions; operationally perfect for prior setting up. One more hotel room was added in 2016 then six en-suite, beautifully furnished rooms the following year when the Herrings relocated to a new family home in the village and converted Church House into a self-contained suite of rooms serviced by the facilities of the Hall.
Lucy has found that the biggest challenge has been to be a mother and lead a front of house team who share her attention to detail and professionalism.
“Our staff, who now number fifty-two, have been so supportive and the girls have benefitted from that. Two of them have just begun to work at our events and they slot easily into the team. We could not do what we do without the friendliness and communications skills of the staff, our highly accomplished brigade of chefs and the beauty and style of the Hall itself. It has helped us to maintain our passion for the business, allowing us to take our family holidays, knowing we have empowered our team to be their best.”
Church House has boosted the number of guests in the hotel and the restaurant is busy each evening, very popular for Sunday Lunch and a favourite rendezvous for Afternoon Tea. Booking is essential.
Prior to Christmas, Washingborough Hall is an ideal venue for company parties and family festive celebrations. “Washingborough Hall is now set-up to succeed in the way we imagined, ten years ago, it could be. We are humbled by the loyalty of our team and the continued support of our regular customers. We also know that high footfall takes its toll and we must always reinvent what we do, keep up with trends and styles and refurbish to maintain the exceptional qualities of the business.”