When taking on the responsible task of breathing new life into one of a small market town’s most historic buildings, namely the 16th Century Feathers Hotel in Ledbury, Herefordshire, then Kevin Charity and colleague Mark Porcher could easily be said to be ahead of their game.
Charity is the chief executive officer of The Coaching Inn Group, which launched the clear strategy of acquiring old and often “tired” coaching inns in market towns across the country and completely revitalising them to play leading hospitality roles in their respective communities.
That was back in 2007 and the group has carried out a number of major inn refurbishments along the road to acquiring fifteen properties, the last two being the historic Swan Hotel in Stafford and the Feathers in Ledbury.
And when this latest makeover is fully completed, The Feathers will have been completely transformed to provide a large and comfortable drop in Coffee House, an eatery and 24 stylish and affordable bedrooms.
“We acquired the hotel a year ago knowing a refurbishment project would be needed pretty soon because while it was great business with lots of local customers, the property itself was tired and ripe for restoration and regeneration,” said Charity. “But first we had to carry out a highly detailed project assessment in consultation with planners and conservationists because we were dealing with two original timber frame Tudor buildings.”
“The older one dates back to the 1560s and was originally a private house before becoming an inn originally called The Plume of Feathers in around 1700 and now one of the principal monuments of this historic market town,” he explained.
Taking on a project like this is an onerous and highly responsible task, so as one of their first steps Charity and the group’s hands-on development director Porcher, who have worked together on hotel restoration projects for thirty years, put their heads together and poured over internal layout plans.
“We’ve built up a huge amount of experience so it’s quite natural for certain physical aspects of an old building to suggest a set of solutions depending on what alterations we are wanting to achieve,” he said.
They decided to carry out The Feathers restoration in two phases with firstly the £350,000 redesign of the ground floor, just completed, followed later in the year by a major bedroom refurbishment.
Key to all their restoration projects has been their trusted team of some twenty carpenters, electricians, painters and other trades people with whom they have worked with years and know their ways.
“They’re all independent contractors and we give them plenty of notice so they give us priority and their professional and enthusiastic support is hugely beneficial to all our projects,” said Kevin, “The Feathers was only completely closed for five days during the entire seven- week operation with our contractors closing areas off one at a time on a rolling programme to allow for business as usual,” he said.
The most exciting feature of the project for the team was the reopening of an old front door, blocked up over one hundred years ago, giving access to the former dowdy and under used Quills Restaurant which has now been transformed into a vibrant new walk-in coffee shop.
As The Feathers was originally two buildings, the reopening of the old front door in one of them had restored the original High Street scene and had been enthusiastically welcomed by conservationists and planners, he said.
“Another major aspect of the project was our doing away with the old Fuggles Restaurant with its beer and hops theme which was dusty and cluttered, and its transformation into our main eatery complete with refurbished bar next door, while retaining a lot of the original character features,” explained Kevin.
“Finally, we have retained and upgraded the large lounge and hotel reception area with new carpets and furnishings to create a comfortable and welcoming environment for guests checking in,” he added.
Still to come later in the year is the circa £450,000 project to refurbish the hotel’s 20 existing bedrooms and to do away with a small swimming pool to create the space for four further bedrooms, including two fully equipped suites for the disabled.
Meanwhile as a further benefit to the town, this comprehensive restoration project has also generated the creation of ten new local jobs with opportunities to progress within the hospitality industry via the Coaching Inn Group’s popular career training programme.
The project has also been welcomed by many often- returning guests who use the hotel as a base for touring the beautiful Herefordshire countryside. “Most realise that over the years even familiar surroundings eventually become tired and need a full upgrade,” said Kevin.
“We have further enhanced a comfortable, welcoming and historic environment for our large local clientele and hotel guests which will stand The Feathers in good stead,” for many years to come,” he concludes.