Happy on our turf…Cheltenham is driving hospitality through the pandemic and beyond…
As Boris announced the first lockdown back in March 2020, few industries reeled more than the hospitality sector, who shut up shop overnight and scrabbled to pivot for takeaways, click and collect, and online ordering. While some outlets already enjoyed established positions as community favourites for at-home dining, many were best suited to the face-to-face customer experience. It was a minefield, and one which while challenging, has delivered one of the most incredibly innovative transformations of a sector we have ever seen, or are likely to see again.
In Cheltenham, the pandemic accelerated plans for a new hospitality support group called ‘TURF’ As founding member of TURF and Director of Second Nature Hotels (who run The Cleeve Hill Hotel), Lindsey Holland explains “There’s long been a belief that Cheltenham needed, or at least would thrive with, a support group for local independent hospitality businesses. We’d been toying with founding one for several months, but it hadn’t really got much further than blue sky thinking by the time the pandemic hit. March 2020 changed all that, and the founding members created a group which is undeniably unique, wholly necessary, and one of the best things to come out of the pandemic for our sector.”
She continues “Spawned from the idea of supporting businesses on ‘our turf’, TURF created a much-needed happy place for many of the independent businesses who would otherwise have struggled during the pandemic. Embracing digital, the group was all about communal conversation and support, ensuring no one missed deadlines for grants, got too low, or felt too alone. We were all in it together and there has been an amazing strength which has come from that, particularly when everything felt so uncertain.”
The group has now grown to 23 independent members, who enjoy weekly catch up meetings and a mutual support network, alongside promotional opportunities with Cheltenham BID and Marketing Cheltenham. It spans fine-dining restaurants including Lumiere, Purslane and L’Artisan, local haunts including The Royal and Sandford Park Ale, and independent food producers including Sibling Distilleries for example.
Aside from actually creating the group itself, TURF has facilitated a move from ‘advice’ to ‘best practice’ when it comes to safe standards. While there has been plenty of guidelines released of how, when and why to adapt for guests, visitors, and diners, there’s a big difference to reading it on the page and delivering it off the page. Having TURF has provided a space for positive discussion, shared knowledge and experience, and a real problem-solving attitude for ensuring the future of these businesses. As Lindsay explains “Guests, visitors, and diners are both anxious and excited to return to the hospitality sector, but this comes with an increased focus on cleanliness as well as great service and experience. They’ll be expecting a more intimate, personal experience, with less people and a bit more exclusivity. This brings its own challenges of balancing the customer experience with the commerciality required to recover. We will all have to be even more aware of the needs of each individual guest. What TURF has provided is a group environment to help prevent the task from becoming overwhelming. There are a lot of official guidelines we have to meet, but also individual guest experiences too. Having a proactive group has made the task seem manageable rather than insurmountable – something that I think we have all been very grateful for.”
Looking ahead to the future and the members of TURF are entirely optimistic for the coming summer. Reports back from the group note an enthusiastic response and demand as lockdown restrictions have eased, forecasting a potentially excellent summer across the board.
Cheltenham looks set to thrive, particularly when you consider its place in the county, and also its proximity to The Cotswolds, as visitors continue to demand authenticity and locality, and are also seeking to avoid the traditional ‘tourist traps’ that are already overpopulated. Cheltenham can and is capitalising on its small town, big impact vibes, and the Happy Place campaign by Marketing Cheltenham and Cheltenham Borough Council is boosting that too. When asked for her happy place, Lindsay’s tongue in cheek comment perfectly sums it up. “Anywhere on our TURF” she says with a smile, as we celebrate the uniqueness, innovation and enthusiasm of the local hospitality sector. Twitter: @TURFcheltenham
Launched in conjunction with Cheltenham Borough Council, ‘Find Your Happy Place’ is engaging with the town’s business and hospitality owners to discover what they think makes Cheltenham such a thriving place to be, highlighting its exciting development prospects for the future to drive innovation and create significant employment opportunities in the area.
For more information on the campaign and how to get involved please see Visit Cheltenham
If you’re a business or organisation in the town and would like to access the asset pack and share your news & stories please visit the Marketing Cheltenham website
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Cheltenham’s campaign forms part of a wider programme of activity to support the high street and local businesses through the pandemic and has been supported by the national Reopening High Streets Safely Fund through the UK Government and European Regional Development Funding.