Happy customers and strong community are winning combo for couples’ success

Suppliers Nigel Hammond and Sue Stokes with Jane and Neil McNair of Low Mill Guesthouse

By Betsy Everett

They have very different stories to tell, but the McNairs and the Reillys of Bainbridge have a lot in common: not least, a dedication to their customers and community, and a stream of awards to mark their self-made success.

In Welcome to Yorkshire’s White Rose awards, Charlotte and David Reilly’s Yorebridge House Hotel has been named small hotel of the year, and – less than half a mile away – Jane and Neil McNair’s Low Mill Guesthouse has taken the prize for best guest accommodation in the county for the third year running.

They came to the Dales via contrasting routes: the Reillys from Yarm, by the Tees, the McNairs from London, their home for most of their lives. The Reillys had long wanted to run a hotel, the McNairs fell into it almost by accident when they saw Low Mill for sale in an estate agent’s window. They had had no intention of going into the hospitality business.
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David and Charlotte of Yorebridge House Hotel with just some of their hard-won trophies

While Low Mill is a three-bedroom guesthouse with no staff whatsoever – not even a cleaner – Yorebridge employs 25 people to manage its 12 bedrooms and AA triple rosette restaurant, open to the public as well as to guests.

Both couples share an unstoppable drive to succeed, an unrivalled capacity for hard work (both have built up their business from scratch and work every day of the week) and a commitment to their local community, through charitable giving, or direct involvement, and in using only local suppliers for their menus.

Two days after picking up the White Rose award, Neil and Jane went on to take DeliciouslyYorkshire’s top prize for use of local produce – which last year, coincidentally, went to Yorebridge House.

“We could not have been more surprised,” said Neil: it was the first time they had entered.

“We have no formal qualifications in cookery and we were up against some real professionals,” says Jane, who produces a choice of three three-course meals most nights of the week for the bed and breakfast guests, all freshly prepared on demand.

“We give guests a choice on the day or the night before from a selection of starters, mains and desserts and hope they all choose the same, but mostly they don’t!” The shopping is done locally, on the day.

The couple admit that in their previous life in London – Neil as a builder and property developer, Jane as manager of a vet’s practice – they were too busy for even much personal entertaining.

“If we had guests for dinner we usually bought a takeaway” says Neil, who now does all the baking, including their own bread, and most of the cakes and desserts.

They are proud of their commitment to locally-sourced produce which was recognised in the DeliciouslyYorkshire award for best use.

Nigel Hammond, a third-generation butcher with a reputation for quality and reliability, whose shop is just a few hundred yards away, supplies most of their meat, with the exception of an occasional delivery of pork from neighbour Sue Stokes, who also provides the free-range eggs for Low Mill from the four-acre smallholding she runs with partner Mark Allen.

“We are incredibly lucky to have access to excellent local producers for everything from dairy, to meat, vegetables and beer,” says Neil.

Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, said judges were “blown away” by the “luxurious experience” offered by the McNairs.

“The fact that Low Mill won its third White Rose award in as many years speaks volumes about the quality of the accommodation they offer. As well as being named the best in the county, the judges said guests would struggle to find anything better, anywhere in the country,” he said.

Both Yorebridge House and Low Mill Guesthouse will now be entered for the VisitEngland awards: Charlotte and David last year took the national title of small hotel of the year, their proudest achievement to date.

“We are, quite literally, living our dream,” says Charlotte. It was a dream that started eleven years ago with a Europe-wide search covering France, Spain and Italy, and ended on a wet Sunday morning in December 2006 when they saw Yorebridge, then the offices of the national park authority, for sale.

They sold everything they had to buy it – house, cars, furniture, Charlotte’s interior design business – and rented accommodation for themselves and two children, Lola, now 13, and eight-year-old Willis, while they worked to build up the business.

“We rented seven houses over five years in Askrigg or Bainbridge. It wasn’t easy with two small children,” says Charlotte.

The rebuilding and refurbishment took 18 months and they opened in January 2008 – just as the recession hit.

“We built it from nothing. We had no customer base, no reputation, no experience and no money so the recession was just another challenge, really. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but we made it,” she adds.

Now they rely mainly on reputation and repeat business and, like the McNairs, do not use the major accommodation agencies.

They are full of praise for their staff of 25: it is very much a family business, with most of the team living locally and those from further afield sharing a house that the Reillys have bought for them in the village.

“The staff are excellent and work together really well as a team. So much of the success is down to them and we are very proud of them all,” says Charlotte.

General manager, Sophie Egglestone and head chef, Dan Shotton, are engaged and planning their wedding – at Yorebridge, of course – for June 2019. They cater for around 35 weddings a year: this year they have also won best small venue in the North of England wedding awards for outstanding customer service.

“Our ethos is simple. We keep our standards high, our staff happy and provide a professional and friendly service,” says David.

See  Low Mill Guesthouse suppliers

Sample  Yorebridge House Menu