The Yorkshireman who gave up the rat race and uprooted his family to run a tiny island in the Channel

Imagine giving up the rat race to run a car-free paradise island? Well that’s what Yorkshireman Craig Senior has done. Catherine Scott met him.

Craig Senior from Rotherham moved his family to live on the tiny island of Herm. Pictured partner Emma, and daughters Meghan and Grace

The tiny Channel island of Herm is just 1.3 miles long and less than half a mile wide. It has one hotel, two pubs, holiday cottages and a campsite, no cars or bicycles.

I have been visiting this piece of paradise since my children were babies. My husband holidayed here as a child and his mother before him and as such it has a special place in our hearts.

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And so when I heard the new man running the island was a Yorkshireman I just had to meet him.

Craig Senior who is CEP of the tiny Island of Herm in the Channel Islands

Herm, just three miles from Guernsey and only accessible by ferry, is a little known gem. With golden beaches, stunning bays and a micro climate to die for, it is no wonder that Mexborough-born Craig Senior fell in love with the place and decided to move his young family to the island three years ago.

He originally got the job of hospitality manager, but within a year he was promoted to CEO and put in charge of running the entire island.

But not everyone was as keen on moving to a remote outcrop which has a population of less than 100 in high season and just seven pupils at its tiny primary school.

“When I told my partner Emma that I had applied for the job she said there was no way she was going to move here – I think her words were ‘over my dead body.’ We were living in Kent at the time and our eldest daughter was just starting primary school.”

TIny Herm Island has no cars or bicycles

But Senior applied anyway and when he got down to the final two it meant he, Emma and the children spending three days on Herm. “I wasn’t being interviewed as to whether I could do the job, I think they knew that but it was more whether we fitted into the community.”

Within 12 hours of arriving Emma, too, had fallen under Herm’s spell as had their two girls. “When they offered me the job I accepted immediately and then realised that I hadn’t even asked about the terms.”

It wasn’t just the island’s beauty that convinced Senior, it was the current chairman and leaseholder John Singer who, with his wife Julia, purchased the island’s lease in 2008.

In 1949, five years after the German occupying force left the Channel Islands, the States of Guernsey bought Herm Island from the Crown. Major Peter Wood and his wife Jenny took over the lease moving from their home in Yorkshire, and for the next 31 years turned Herm into a thriving but unspoilt holiday destination.

The White House hotel on Herm where Craig Senior now lives www.johnrossphotography.co.uk

Their daughter Pennie and her husband Adrian Heyworth took over in 1980 but decided to sell on the remaining 40 years of the lease in 2008, because none of their children were willing to take on the responsibility of running the island. That’s when Singer stepped in.

“John is such an inspirational person and I knew that I wanted to work with him,” says Senior. And so, having got the job, he moved himself, Emma, Megan and Grace and the family dog Harvey to the island that has nothing but quad bikes and a tractor for staff to get around.

It is all a far cry from Senior’s upbringing on a council estate in Mexborough. He moved to Derby when he was still quite young but remains an Yorkshireman at heart.

Having had a career in hospitality, he developed a reputation as a bit of a troubleshooter – going into failing businesses and making them profitable, especially golf clubs and leisure facilities. “Nothing really phased me,” he says. But when his first marriage broke down he admits he struggled.

Herm is the new home for Craig Senior Pictured beautufl Belvoir Bay Picture: Fred Wynn Photography & Drone

“I think I had a bit of a breakdown. But it made me reassess my life and what is important.”

He met Emma and they had their two daughters and he rebuilt his life. When he moved to Herm, Senior set about restructuring the management, mainly promoting from within.

“We have some amazing staff here, but many of them had been overlooked or were in the wrong jobs. I just saw their potential and gave them responsibility.”

He also set about making a hit list of things he wanted to see change. But on an island loved by thousands – Herm sees 60,000 tourists a year –mainly for the fact it is unspoilt and reminiscent of a more simple bygone age, Senior was bound to ruffle feathers.

“I am more than aware that we need to maintain the heritage of Herm, but there are also a lot of things that need updating.”

One of the island’s two beach bars now sells alcohol – although table service only – and he plans to expand internet coverage across the entire island.

Herm Island has some stunning beaches.

More controversially he has banned people bringing their own tents onto the island after a spate of youngsters coming over with crates of beer and causing a nuisance.

“We don’t want that element on Herm, it is not what I want for the island.” But in banning tents he has upset many Guernsey families who have holidayed on the island for years.

Another controversial area is the ending of a contract with the Trident ferry company that has been the link between Herm and Guernsey for decades. When they refused to come to the table to discuss a more flexible arrangement, Senior and Singer bought their own boat.

You get the feeling that Senior wants people to like him and to take them with him as he tries to bring Herm Island into the 21st century.

His aim is to make the island self-sufficient, and not reliant on handouts from the Stingers. “Any profit we make goes straight back into improving things on the island,” he says.

The last 18 months have been a challenge. When the pandemic hit and cases started to appear on nearby Guernsey, Senior took the decision to evacuate all visitors and close off the island. “It was hard as we have a lot of staff from Europe who were unable to go home and see their families. It was really tough.”

To keep staff busy, he set about giving them projects to keep them occupied. They painted and refurbished the lounge and bar at the White House, some of the cottages were renovated and he also got them making a woodland walk through the middle of the island, to make the most of its natural assets.

“We have a crane on the island and Justin from Herm Oysters would bring supplies, mail, prescriptions and anything people needed from Guernsey and we would crane it onto the harbour and sterilise it all.”

For Jodie Hide, 22, who moved from her home in Doncaster to be with her fiancé, Herm’s head gardener, Liam Gaughan, being unable to visit family was hard.

But she doesn’t regret her move and sees why Liam loves it so much. The pair plan to marry in Doncaster when they can and will have a blessing on the island.

It may have been tough on everyone but it turned out to be the right decision, as to date Herm hasn’t had one case of Covid-19.

Senior, 52, sees working and living on Herm as a privilege. “Who wouldn’t?” he says, casting his eyes around what is described on the publicity as a paradise island.

His daughters, who are seven and eight, attend the tiny Herm school three and half days a week, half a day is spent on sailing lessons and the fifth day at a school on Guernsey.

He says the family does face a difficult decision in the next couple of years as their eldest will have to weekly board on Guernsey for secondary school.

“We will have to decide whether that is what we want for her, and if so then we will stay put for as long as I still feel I can add something to the island. I might even retire here. We have some serious thinking to do.”

But looking around this beautiful place he acknowledges that leaving will be hard.

Puffins nest on Herm Island during the spring
Jodie Hide and her fiancé and Herm's head gardener, Liam Gaughan from Doncaster have also made Herm Island their home
Shell beach now has a licensed beach bar since Craig Senior took over running the island
Shell Beach with Kayaks
The Pool at the White House Hotel the only hotel on Herm island
The Seagull campsite on Herm where Craig Senior has reloacted