Dales hotel whose London owner hires entire staff from a single village

It was the sort of hotel where the guests gathered for sherry at seven, before dinner at half past.

Owner Ian Hewitt at the Burgoyne Hotel in the centre of Reeth in Swaledale. Picture: Tony Johnson.

The ritual was almost as deep-rooted as the community in which it took place. Those it indulged came back year after year; those who did not weren’t even allowed inside.

The Burgoyne, a Georgian country house overlooking the village green, dominates the centre of Reeth, the largest settlement in upper Swaledale. It was, said its owner, Ian Hewitt, “the big house on the hill – the place you couldn’t go”.

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The locals had held their breath when, in 2016, it was placed on sale, with an asking price of £1.1m. When it went to an ofcumden, an oil man from London, it seemed as if it had been taken from them.

The lounge at the Burgoyne Hotel in Reeth

But a year and a half after he took it over, it is more of a community asset than ever. Not only is its restaurant now open to non-residents, but almost every one of its staff has been recruited from within the village boundary.

“It was perhaps a bit of an intimidating building – a place for foreigners coming into the area,” said Mr Hewitt. “It was embedded in certain traditional styles which in my view could be improved.

“It’s not rocket science. I’ve run oil companies all my life, but whatever the business, you need the right people doing the right things at the right time.”

Mr Hewitt, raised in Sheffield before moving south, had decided to buy the Burgoyne after falling for it while staying over, as he walked the cross-country trail from coast to coast.

Manager Matthew Robertson in the new bar at the Burgoyne Hotel in Reeth

But finding a workforce from within a village of only around 700 souls, including retirees, was a challenge for the general manager he appointed. Matthew Robertson is a hotel professional from Durham, and one of only two of the Burgoyne team not from Reeth. The other is the chef, Thomas Pickard, who used to work at the Michelin-ranked Star Inn at Harome and is from Richmond, all of 10 miles away.

“In past jobs, I’ve had staff from all over the world. But no location has caused me as many problems as I have now – because obviously the talent pool is smaller,” Mr Robertson said.

“The rural location doesn’t help. I’ve had strong candidates from outside the area that normally I would have taken on instantaneously.”

But a little local difficulty had helped to create what he said was an “authentic Dales experience”.

“I wouldn’t exclude someone from a job because they didn’t live in Yorkshire. But I want our guests to be able to speak to a gamekeeper’s daughter, or to somebody who owned a bakery here 20 years ago.”

He added: “When the hotel was taken over by someone based in London, there were raised eyebrows – an investor owning it rather than a management couple as had been the case for the last few generations.

“And there was always going to be a backlash from guests who had been coming here for years.

“But Ian’s first instruction to me was to support the village.”