A home for jazz

This vintage hotel has wow factor, but its creators are even more inspirational. Sharon Dale reports on the alternative family who turned their back on mainstream society to give one child a fighting chance against all the odds.

Painted in bright yellow, La Rosa Hotel is strikingly different from its neighbours on Whitby's West Cliff. Yet the vibrant exterior is nothing compared to what you will find inside. It's a visual feast of old pictures, books, and furniture surrounded by hundreds, maybe thousands, of fascinating nick nacks. Mr Fox, an excellent piece of taxidermy dressed in a hunting jacket, surveys the scene. His glassy eyes watch over this vintage wonderland, created by people with a passion for the pre-loved, quirky and nostalgic.

Lewis Carroll, once a regular visitor here, would adore the wildly imaginative interiors and warm, friendly atmosphere. But as a writer, he'd be even more interested to learn that this magical place is the latest chapter of a powerful story.

La Rosa may have been named after a pack of Mexican playing cards, but it was born out of the needs of one child.

Jazz was five when she was adopted by Amanda Boorman. Happy to be a single parent, Amanda had everything planned. She had moved to a village outside York and she would work part-time in a bookshop, while Jazz went to school.

But the reality was very different. Jazz was a beautiful child whose angelic looks masked a badly damaged and terrified little person unable to behave in the way society expected her to.

Her needs were so great that Amanda was forced to give up work to give her daughter the 24-hour supervision and care she needed. Soon, she was re-mortgaging her house to make ends meet.

The behaviour she faced was challenging in the extreme. It wouldn't be fair to those involved to reveal the extent of it, but few parents could have coped. Yet social services had mentioned none of the issues and there was no help or advice.

Amanda, who trained as a social worker, says: "They left her and couldn't get away fast enough and I soon found out why. It was hard and what was supposed to be a lovely place to bring up a child became isolating. I had no job, no money and I couldn't leave Jazz alone, even to wash my hair. I had to wait till friends or family came round to help. It was a horrible time.

"When we went out people would tut and give us dirty looks as if I was the worst mother in the world. People asked why I didn't send Jazz back, but she is very loveable and I'd become very attached to her, plus I knew that realistically I was her only chance."

Angry at the lack of support, Amanda wrote a story, using a pseudonym, for a national newspaper warning that the authorities should prepare children and adoptive parents for the challenges they might face. The kind reader, who sent Amanda a cheque for 1,000, didn't reveal his name and probably doesn't realise how much he helped her.

"The first thing I did was buy a vintage caravan so we could go on holiday to remote rural places. I'd noticed that being somewhere wild made Jazz happy and the caravan gave us freedom. It was almost like we'd found the answer of how to deal with her," says Amanda, who spent the rest of the money buying a garden shed, which she turned into a classroom where she could home school her daughter.

"She didn't fit in at school and there were a lot of problems. I was dropping her off and being asked to go and collect her half an hour later. I understand why they couldn't cope."

Life improved slightly, but mulling over the difficulties she faced with her two best friends, Dave and Claudia, resulted in what appeared to be a madcap solution. Trying to fit into a conventional, over-stimulating environment didn't suit Jazz, so the trio decided to create one where she would have more freedom and more one-to-one attention with no reproachful looks and nasty comments from people who knew nothing of her difficult start in life.

They sold their houses, pooled the cash, found a property with land to lease on the moors near Whitby and came up with an impressive business plan.

"We already ran a festival caf called La Rosa and pioneered the vintage revival using old china and homemade cakes. We thought the concept would work as a campsite," says Amanda.

"We saw an advert for the property in Country Life. It was a cheap lease offered by the Mulgrave estate, but the deal was you had to renovate the house. I'm not sure what they thought about three slightly hippy people, who weren't related to each other, with a wild child in tow, but they let us have it."

The friends collected gipsy and Airstream caravans and created something special. Word soon spread about the vintage vacation site.

"It worked. We created something that paid the rent, was the best place for Jazz and gave us a vocation. We were strict with Jazz, but the free style of living suited her and dealing with customers helped socialise her."

The alternative "family" have stayed together giving Jazz support. Claudia now rents a cottage up the lane and is foster mother to Jazz's older brother, who was in care. Dave, an artist, now lives in Whitby, but works at La Rosa and is a major part of the children's lives.

The set-up works well, but the long-term future was cause for concern.

"The lease will be up for renewal in a few years and now the place is renovated the rent will go up. We also wanted to find something that would support us long-term and provide work for Jazz and her brother," says Amanda.

She found a dilapidated, boarded up guest house brilliantly situated with views out to sea and the abbey. Turned down for a mortgage, her supportive parents agreed to buy and lease it to her.

So La Rosa Hotel opened two years ago with eight double bedrooms, an apartment, the Mad Hatter tearooms and a party room in the basement. The whole hotel is available for hire too.

It is a thrilling place filled with vintage finds that reflect Amanda and Dave's love of "old stuff" and the property's Victorian heritage.

The friends used to run FAB, a retro shop in the Leeds Corn Exchange and are expert treasure hunters.

The giant Egyptian Mummy case at the top of the stairs was from local vintage shop The Stonehouse, Mr Fox is from eBay, as is the Victorian apothecary collection in the basement.

Although the bedsteads are antique, Amanda invested in mattresses from the Princess and the Pea in Lincoln and bought high thread count sheets, while the paint is all Farrow and Ball.

Each room has a theme. One pays homage to Lewis Carroll, another is styled like a gipsy caravan and there are cowgirl and Little Riding Hood suites. The Crow's Nest apartment has a Peter Pan feel.

The day-to-day running is down to Chrissy, a former care worker, who used to provide Amanda with some respite and is a good friend to her daughter.

Jazz, 16, has grown into an intelligent, pretty teenager with a flair for cooking and she helps with the hotel catering.

Amanda is still there for her every hour of every day and although there are still issues, she is a much-loved

member of what has tuned out to be a wonderfully peculiar family that works far better than most conventional ones.

Hers is a happier ending than anyone could have predicted 11 years ago and the story, full of emotional highs and lows, courageous characters and fantastic settings would surely make a brilliant film.

"It already is," reveals Amanda, "but not one where there are adverts for washing powder part way through."

Amanda and Claudia have documented Jazz's life throughout on photo, film and on paper.

They hope that their incredible journey, which reveals an alternative way of caring for emotionally damaged children, will help social workers and would-be adoptive parents.

"It's going to be a training film and a hopeful film," says Amanda.

La Rosa Hotel, East View, Whitby. Tel: 01947 606981.


YP MAG 1/1/11