A frenzy of spring cleaning is taking place at holiday cottages across England as the self-catering sector prepares to welcome back guests from Monday.
Most of the estimated 100,000 cottages in England have been empty for six months after the second lockdown and then the tier system forced businesses to close for the winter season.
“We’ve been sprucing up the place up for weeks, but the last couple of days are always pandemonium,” said Alistair Handyside, owner of Higher Wiscombe, a collection of three luxury holiday homes in south Devon. “We want to make it the best it can be.”
“I’m glad the government has allowed us to [visit our holiday cottages during lockdown to] do maintenance,” said Fred Monsone, who invested in Sunrise Cottage, a four-bed holiday let in Somerset less than a year before the pandemic hit. “It was a relief to open the door and realise it hadn’t flooded. We’ve had the heating on for three days solid and the cleaners were working for eight hours. It’s spring cleaning on steroids.”
Monsone said guests were “ecstatic” about being able to holiday again in the UK even though local indoor attractions remain closed and not all restaurants and bars have the outside space to allow them to open. “Guests keep emailing us because they want to make sure it’s all done and dusted and they can have their holiday.”
But after a year of lost income and uncertainty owners are tentative about reopening. In a survey conducted by the Professional Association of Self-Caterers (Pasc) 46% of owners said they had had mental health challenges over the past year. “Owners are actually quite nervous [about reopening],” said Handyside who is also chair of Pasc. “Most haven’t had a guest for six to seven months. It’s a long time to not do what you do, so it’s mixed emotions.”
Accommodation in England is opening in stages. From Monday, single households are allowed to stay in self-contained units in England. From 17 May, that rises to two households, and hotels, hostels and campsites with shared facilities will also be allowed to open. Larger groups will not be able to share accommodation until at least 21 June. “We have one cottage that sleeps 20, which will have been closed for 15 months by the time we reopen in June,” said Handyside.
UK self-catering businesses have lost an estimated £2bn of income due to the coronavirus crisis, while having to invest tens of thousands in Covid-safety precautions.
Graham Kirk, who owns Beech Farm Cottages in Pickering, North Yorkshire, lost £200,000 worth of bookings over the pandemic. “We have had some grant relief but on a personal level the furlough scheme hasn’t been much use because it’s just me and my wife who are full-time, and we pay ourselves in dividends, and there hasn’t been support for that. We’ve spent all our savings and taken out a £50k Bounce Back Loan to tide us over.
“We’ve been able to use the time for maintenance and have built a new play room but that’s putting a positive spin on what’s been a horrendous year,” said Kirk. Beech Farm’s eight cottages are fully booked from Monday, with little availability between now and October. “We feel positive now, provided we can stay open and there are no further restrictions,” he added.
His cautious optimism is echoed across England. “It’s been enormously stressful,” said Handyside. “Uncertainty is the enemy of the human brain and our sector has been really hit by it.”
But the stress of the last year and anxiety that businesses are not out of the woods yet will be put to one side on Monday when cottages throw open their doors for guests.
“Our guests are all regulars and they can’t wait to come. And we will be welcoming them. We’ll probably pop a bottle of champagne as each of them arrive,” said Handyside.