A look behind the scenes: All Saints Hotel near Bury St Edmunds
It may be three miles out of town, but All Saints Hotel’s director has the mindset of a Bury St Edmunds independent shop manager.
Hannah Cuthbertson is putting customer experiences at the forefront of her drive to lead the Fornham St Genevieve ‘resort’ to four star status. It is the same approach she has deployed in making Hengrave Hall a popular wedding destination.
A combined 40,000 customers pass through both sites every year, but anyone entering the venue or treatment rooms, spa or restaurant offered in the hotel would feel the homeliness of entering their local pub. “We offer a customised service,” said Hannah, who meets me in a restaurant which offers a stunning view over the golf course.
“We know some regulars by name and can ask personal questions. You can’t get that in national chain hotels and restaurants. We are not managed by corporate giants.”
The personal touch is a distinguishing quality for any business and helps independents compete against chains.
Louise Yilmaz is head of reservations and customer service with All Saints and recommends guests visit the independent shops in Bury. She said: “They ask about the little boutiques in town. We always recommend Abbeygate Street, especially leisure guests at the weekend. It is 100 per cent part of the town’s character. It makes it unique.”
Hannah said she’s backing Love Local, a Bury Free Press campaign to promote shopping locally.
“I think all independent businesses should be supporting each other,” she said. “We use local companies for food. It is good for the environment.”
As part of Love Local, retailers have explained how more events staged in the town centre has brought footfall. And All Saints has also felt a boost from the popular Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre and Ale Trail from customers looking to stay the night.
Free parking offered outside the hotel is another incentive for customers, with the current car park situation in town considered one of the biggest challenges.
But while others have moved to criticise the town’s train service, Hannah feels the town is not badly connected – which is key to custom.
“I think the slow pace is quite an attraction,” she said of Bury.
“The north Norfolk coast used to be quite a haven for people looking to escape, but obviously you can only see so many places there – so I think people are coming out of London and branching out and exploring. It is easy enough to get to Bury. It is such a nice way of life around here. Even Cambridge can be manic sometimes and people don’t always want that. They want to mooch about, find a parking space and it can all go hand in hand. I’d say it is slow paced but it does not mean we are not exciting. It is like a hybrid. It’s a place to relax and enjoy your spare time.
“There are different places in Suffolk and Essex. We are only an hour and a half out of London, it’s very accessible. I find our location is in our sales pitch.”
Inevitably, Brexit is also a consideration at the moment. But while many businesses are feeling uneasy about the uncertainty, Hannah is able to see the opportunity it can bring for local companies to support each other.
“We look at it from a UK-wide perspective,” she said. “We are finding with Brexit a lot of people are watching their purse strings and staycations are a lot more popular this year. We have that resort feel here. It’s not just focusing our marketing on Bury and surrounding towns, it’s going out further afield.”
Hannah meets me on the back of three and a half years’ worth of building work on what was once Suffolk Hotel. It has all been done to a ‘very high standard’ and the transformation has seen All Saints rise from number eight to first on the all-important local rankings of hotels on TripAdvisor.
The focus is very much on creating a ‘resort’ where guests can spend an enjoyable weekend without even leaving the site. “We have given it a new lease of life,” Hannah continued. “It is about maintaining and moving forward high standards. We are now reaping the rewards, it is getting busier and we have a regular client base now.”
As well as looking the part, a stay at All Saints now tastes better. Hannah said the food had ‘always been good’ but now wanted to ‘take it to the next level’.
It is all part of the ambition for the currently ‘three star’ destination to add a fourth before the year is out.
“There is a huge amount you need to be doing to become a four star hotel,” Hannah continued.
“It is about keeping on doing what we are doing.
“We believe we are operating like a four star hotel and we believe we should be recognised for our hard work. It is time now to make sure we can go for it.”