How Steve Mortimer is reviving the famous Staveley Arms in North Yorkshire

Many bosses take pride in possessing a global empire.

But surely only one entrepreneur can claim to have built a business portfolio that stretches from the vast expanses of the Greater Kruger park in South Africa to a tiny hamlet in North Yorkshire.

Steve Mortimer is that rare breed; a business leader who defies easy classification. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, he bought the Turkey Inn, near Keighley in West Yorkshire, along with his partner Fay Howell, to save the historic building for the community. Last year, he worked with the North Stainley Estate to re-open and renovate The Staveley Arms, which dates from the 1660s. He’s taken on the business interest of the pub alongside Fay and entrepreneur Oliver Renton to create jobs for local people and attract tourists. He’s also the owner of Mpfuvu Manor and Wild Insight Safaris, companies that combine to run eco-friendly safaris for tourists who respect the natural world.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A love of Yorkshire and the outdoors has shaped his business interests.

Teamwork: Steve Mortimer with partner Fay Howell. The couple run the Turkey Inn at Goose Eye and the Staveley Arms, North Stainley. (Photo supplied on behalf of Steve Mortimer)Teamwork: Steve Mortimer with partner Fay Howell. The couple run the Turkey Inn at Goose Eye and the Staveley Arms, North Stainley. (Photo supplied on behalf of Steve Mortimer)
Teamwork: Steve Mortimer with partner Fay Howell. The couple run the Turkey Inn at Goose Eye and the Staveley Arms, North Stainley. (Photo supplied on behalf of Steve Mortimer)

"I forged a career around finance and helping businesses perform, some of which have been in the hospitality sector, which I have always come back to,’’ he said. “It all came together during lockdown. I wanted to preserve some local heritage assets, such as the Turkey Inn which looked doomed to become flats, and breathe life into buildings which might have suffered a different fate."

He became fascinated with Africa during a year out in Kenya, where he carried out conservation and teaching work. He later spent three months training to be a safari guide in Africa, where he met Graham Cooke, one of the founders of Eco Training, a business which encourages thoughtful tourism.

"He's still the only man to hand rear two leopard cubs and re-introduce them to the wild,’’ said Mr Mortimer. “We got on like a house on fire. I spent every spare penny to add to my logbook of Safari guiding experience. At the time there were too many Ferrari safaris, where people went round and saw animals at speed, and everybody missed the true connection. The Wild Insights safari was built around taking people to Africa who really wanted to understand what's going on, instead of ticking off a list of things to see."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The project was mothballed for a few years during the pandemic, which gave Mr Mortimer the chance to refine his plans for the business, which included finding a permanent base in South Africa.

"It's only been really in the last 12 months that momentum has started to build again,’’ he said. “There seem to be more people who want to have real experiences of meaning and purpose. The South African operation, which is in the Greater Kruger park, is run by a team of three people. It's quite a sensory experience, you feel the warmth of the sun and the breeze in your hair. The scale and remoteness of the park is quite moving in its own right. It's connecting people with where ultimately, we all came from; the heartlands of Africa. It's the greatest classroom in the world." There's a sense of adventure and wonder throughout. It brings the child out in everyone."

Closer to home, he created 30 jobs when he snapped up the Turkey Inn, which stands in the historic settlement of Goose Eye.

"Once we'd secured ownership of the Turkey, we took the view that, although we didn't want to become a pub company, there were definite benefits in having two inns, in terms of scale. It's quite a tricky industry at the moment. I went for Sunday dinners at the Staveley Arms as a young boy. It just stood out, it's a beautiful, adaptable venue, we can do everything from corporate events to parties and weddings. There are so many great tourist destinations nearby such as Fountains Abbey.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The Staveley had been closed for eight months and had always struggled,’’ he added. “I thought that something with similar characteristics to the Turkey would do really well in the region.

"That's proved to be the case. A lot of local villagers desperately wanted somewhere that could be at the heart of the community and attract tourists as well.

"We are also passionate about people eating local produce. We offer pub classics with a Yorkshire twist. The payroll at Staveley is close to 30 staff and it's about the same at the Turkey. A lot of them are young people coming into their first jobs.”

After a torrid time, there are some encouraging signs for the economy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"January and February and half of March were pretty tough and not helped by the most hideous weather I can remember for a long time,’’ he said. “I'm confident there will always be a good influx of visitors to the area but the weather has not been kind.

"I hope the worst of the energy squeeze is ending and inflation is starting to come under control, although, for businesses a big minimum wage hike has kicked in. But I would like to believe that the worst of our economic problems are behind us and people do have more disposable income. We have to make sure our quality of service is spot on so they choose to spend that income with us.”

He is considering “combining propositions” with The Old Coach House, which is part of North Stainley Estate, so food and rooms can be offered for tourists. Mr Mortimer is clearly a man who never lacks ideas.

"Could we take some of our produce, maybe even part-prepared meals, and make them available to a community shop?” he said."We're never standing still. In five years time I hope to be busier than ever and running some really inviting hospitality propositions that benefit our business and Yorkshire as a whole. We've got such magnificent natural resources available to us. It's also noticeable how local businesses want to support each other. Everyone benefits from that."

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.