Accessible Yorkshire Dales Cottages | COVID Safe Travel
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Is it possible for a holiday cottage to be luxurious, accessible, and COVID safe? In today’s #SafeAccessibleTravel interview, I chat with Diane Howarth from Cottage in the Dales, tranquil, beautiful, and accessible self-catering cottages in the Yorkshire Dales.
Can you tell us a little bit about Cottage in the Dales?
We are the only Yorkshire accommodation providing mobility, hearing & visual support to the VisitEngland National Accessibility Scheme standards, and for guests with wider, differing needs, often hidden, The Dairy is dementia and autism-friendly. If you don’t need these facilities, most disappear.
The Dairy demolishes the clinical accessible accommodation perception, providing a luxurious stay that is appealing, practical, and enjoyable by guests irrespective of their age, or disability.
A red carpet awaits, not an emergency cord. ’Accessible Luxury’, a premium hospitality experience, accessible to all. Our pleasure is ensuring yours.
What is your role?
Diane Howarth - Owner / Director with husband Andrew.
How has COVID-19 affected your business?
We’ve been closed since 23 March reopening 4 July 2020. Financially - we’ve lost at least £45,000 revenue to the limited company business - over 50% of our normal revenue/turnover as we aim to keep it below the VAT threshold of £85,000 as we don’t ever want to just top over that threshold. As we pay ourselves via dividend rather than salary, we could not furlough ourselves. As we, therefore, won’t make a profit in our business this year, our total income for both of us in 2020 will be zero. One of the 3 cottages is standalone, so we were lucky to get the £10,000 grant for that cottage which has been a lifeline to help pay the bills. But as the other two cottages are part of our own home then we got nothing for them. We don’t have other staff to pay as we use external local contractors.
Cottage in the Dales provides dedicated accessible facilities for disabled guests. How has the accessibility been affected by any changes you’ve had to make?
For all our guests - we want to ensure they have the confidence that they will have a safe, relaxing, and enjoyable stay with us and be able to continue to get out and about to explore the Yorkshire Dales. Our pleasure is to ensure theirs. Hence it is key both personally and in business to be flexible and adaptable in these current uncertain times.
Understanding guests’ accessibility requirements - As before the pandemic and now, when guests book with us and advise on the booking form they have accessibility requirements, we have a conversation with them as to what their needs are including equipment, followed up with a brochure for them to look at their leisure. This gives them (and us) the assurance the cottage meets their needs. This is what we do as standard.
Accessible facilities within the cottage - On reopening, the accessible facilities within the cottage have not had to change - they just also have to be disinfected after cleaning, like the rest of the cottage. As the cottage is flexible in providing the accessible facilities to suit the needs of individual guests, then that is easily manageable as we own and store all the items ourselves and not reliant on hiring anything into the cottage. So, it is the new business as usual within the cottage itself as part of our new cleaning/disinfecting protocols.
Have you taken any extra training to ensure that Cottage in the Dales is COVID safe?
There is an online cleaning webinar we have been able to take to understand the required protocols. The key training is to be able to articulate the risk assessment we have documented along with the cleaning protocols and get them reviewed by the AA and VisitEngland to gain the two accreditations. These are internal documents but the summary of them is outlined on our website under the heading COVID-19, which highlights safety measures we have taken, cottage changes, flexible terms for 2020 & getting out and about.
The key thing is to get the training, put in place the measures and communicate these to guests to give them the information and confidence to make an informed decision about taking/booking a holiday with us.
Can you tell us about the cleaning procedures you’ve put in place?
We are already renowned for our cleanliness in our cottages. This ‘spring clean’ already happens at every cottage changeover and obviously continues using e-cover cleaning products, which are also provided in the cottages for guests to use throughout their stay. There is then a second ‘clean’ which is a disinfectant clean using a virucidal sanitiser (as standard supermarket products are not good enough), covering all touch surfaces, skirting boards, floors, especially high touch e.g. handles, switches, keys, remote controls).
Read More: Safety information from Cottage in the Dales
We wash all bedlinen at 60 degrees now, rather than previously at 40 degrees. We already have separate sets of bed linen where most are washed in biological powder and a few that are kept separate for guests who want hypo-allergenic bedding (bed linen and duvets and pillows). So again, that is business as usual for us.
We cannot find a product that is both hypo-allergenic and also disinfects to the level required as supermarket products are not good enough. I think it is probably incompatible. Hence, we are checking with all our guests who have requested ‘allergenic bedlinen’ if the use of these products causes them a problem. If so, then we have recommended that they move their reservation to 2021. We can only provide them with relevant product information to allow them to make an informed decision.
Have you adjusted check-in and check-out times and procedures?
Check-out was normally 10 am and check-in at 3 pm. Often guests would arrive early and/or leave late and we were able to manage this without any problems usually. We have communicated to guests politely and hopefully, reassuringly that checkout is still 10 am but it needs to be by 10 am not 10.15 or 10.30 and also that check-in is 4 pm to enable us to have the additional time to do the disinfecting to the standards we wish to ensure their safety. We have additional staff (ie me, Diane) to help achieve these times as we have a ‘swap-out/swap-in’ strategy of all the things we need to change, thereby saving time.
Are you offering extra flexibility for bookings?
Yes, as mentioned flexibility and being adaptable is key this year - we are offering flexible terms to safeguard our guests holiday and money. It is not just in our practices but also in managing reservations. We were quite open in our communication to our guests back in March that if we refunded everyone we would go bust; it is as simple as that. So, we offered everyone a backup date in 2021 that was agreeable to them that they could move their date and all monies to them as and when they wished - right up to the point of their 2020 arrival date. All but two agreed - one of which said he couldn’t think that far ahead! Even guests from New Zealand, Australia and Germany agreed to that and they haven’t stayed with us before. There is an insurance product we are looking at for future reservations but it is for that - just future reservations after 1 August, not existing bookings.
As you reopen, roughly how many people will be on-site at any one time?
At Inglenook Cottage, which is on its own in West Burton, only guests will be on site. Our housekeeper Rachel will have left and so will we, so we have advised we are doing the welcome via phone rather than in person for the rest of 2020. We communicated we would come to the garden/cottage in a case of emergency and this would probably be Andrew as he does all the maintenance. The Dairy and The Byre are both in our garden. But the guests can arrive, park in their own parking space and access their cottage directly from the courtyard and have their own private patio, as well as access across the whole 3/4 acre garden that is shared between the cottages and where we live. So, we can welcome them personally, at a social distance, given we have previously advised that the cottage is open and key inside.
Eating and drinking – will supermarkets deliver to Cottage in the Dales? Are there local, safe options for takeaways and/or eating out?
As part of the Arrival Pack we send to guests we provide the information about local services, our personal recommendations as to where to eat (including dates they are reopening) - highlighting which ones are the accessible eateries, along with our grocery order form if they would like us to do the shopping at Campbells of Leyburn, as we support the ‘Shop Local’ so much. We also outline which big supermarkets can deliver ready for their arrival. There are no food delivery options available as we are so rural, but the eateries include the takeaway options too.
For guests who wish to get out and about, are there accessible activities or places to visit nearby with social distancing measures in place?
Yes, we have a file full of accessible places to visit. So, as they are now reopening, we are checking with them what changes they have done so we can update this information accordingly.
An important thing to consider when getting out and about is the availability of accessible toilets. Are you aware of local accessible toilets which are open at the moment?
We already have confirmation from the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Richmondshire District Council that all the public toilets and accessible toilets are now open. We already have a list of them all in our accessible places to visit. Whilst we are out and about ourselves in the coming days/weeks, we will be checking for ourselves.
Are you able to provide information about nearby hospitals?
The details of the nearest hospital and doctor/dentist etc. are already in the cottage. We are very lucky to have a very flexible doctor’s surgery where Mon-Fri any of our guests/visitors can turn up between 9-10.30am and just wait and will be seen. Our local surgery is just over a mile away and is also accessible too. The nearest hospital is 45 minutes away at Northallerton.
Have you made any changes that we haven’t already covered?
We provide our guests with hand sanitiser and disinfectant for use within the cottage. We also provide our guests with a ‘COVID Care Kit’ for them to take out and about with them. This kit contains 2 disposable masks, 2 pairs of disposable gloves, anti-viral wipes and alcohol-based hand sanitising gel.
Where can people find out more about Cottage in the Dales?
Specific Accessible and Inclusive pages from the top page on the menu of our website https://www.cottageinthedales.co.uk.
Below is our new video for The Dairy which showcases the accessible integrated facilities and some of the accessible equipment.
A huge thank you to Diane for taking the time to answer my questions! I'm hearing from so many of my readers who are looking for safe, accessible UK staycations this year and even planning for next year.
The good news is, you can find deals on staycations with Travelscoop, and I’m delighted to say that I’ll be staying at Cottage in the Dales later on this year, so keep your eyes peeled for an accessibility review on this blog.
If you’re planning future wheelchair accessible travels, I have some blog posts which may help.
Read More: #SafeAccessibleTravel Interviews