Exclusive: How one Somerset hotel has turned to farming and food delivery to survive the lockdown
As lockdown sees British hotels struggle on with empty rooms and deserted restaurants, many are looking for new ways to adapt to life without guests.
One such is The Newt in Somerset, which has launched a root-and-stem grocery business, producing fresh food and delivering it throughout the surrounding region.
Called the Mobile Newt, the innovative new service makes use of the hotel’s workforce, as well as its 800-acre estate, to supply customers across Somerset – opening up a much-needed line of revenue in the process.
The acclaimed country house hotel, which only opened in August 2019, was founded with a farm-to-fork ethos that has made it uniquely prepared for the switch to agriculture.
Alongside well-established kitchen gardens, The Newt estate contains a bakery turning out bread, pies and cakes, a butcher’s where meat from a local farm is cut and packaged, a creamery churning out mozzarella and halloumi, and a cider press, all of which have been turned over to the new initiative.
Acres of previously unused fields have been tilled and planted with carrots, parsnips and sweetcorn, with even the hotel’s manager, Andrew Foulkes, getting stuck in with spade and pitchfork.
Receptionists, cleaners, waiters and other members of indoor staff have also been drafted in to help ramp up production, some heading out into the fields to sow, grow and harvest, others packing boxes and delivering them to customers.
“Our assistant manager is now our head of logistics, our restaurant manager is head of customer services, and our café manager runs our picking and packing team,” said Edward Workman, The Newt’s CEO.
“Luckily our food & beverage manager worked for River Cottage, then Riverford Organic Farmers, so he’s been the lynchpin.”
The kitchens are also in operation, producing cold food items, including soups and gelatos, that can be added to the deliveries.
Locals, many living in rural areas and struggling to book much-in-demand supermarket deliveries, have responded with enthusiasm for the hotel’s services.
The initially small delivery area, limited to nearby towns and villages, has now expanded to encompass Frome, Glastonbury, Sherborne and Bath, with three vans making door-to-door drop-offs each day.
The enterprise is also a useful lifeline to local suppliers, many of whom would normally rely on now-closed restaurants to offload their goods, but can now find new trade through The Newt’s operations.
With the threat of coronavirus far from over, fastidious hygiene practises have been introduced to allow the operation to continue: staff go about their work while adhering to the two-metre social distancing guideline, and all are subject to regular body temperature checks.
Even as the UK hotel industry looks forward to the return of paying guests, The Newt’s management is looking to keep its new sideline going after lockdown is lifted.
“I think it’s really important to have the ability and flexibility to try new things,” said Workman.
“We have set up the land and people are learning new skills, so this will definitely have a legacy.”