We are now 12 years into our journey @East Thorne. Along with any business there is always a back story. So, as our 12 year anniversary is upon us, lots of people still ask about how we got here.
Who We Were Before Glamping
Adam was playing rugby professionally in the rugby premiership. He had notched up 15 years at the top with Wasps, Saile sharks, Newport Gwent Dragons to name but a few. My background was performance analysis and coaching science with a buried hunger for business inspired by my dad who owns a haulage company with it’s own zero to hero story.
Ad came from the first wave of professional players. Despite playing in front of thousands of people every week, the clubs offered no support with future plans after rugby. The transition to ‘civvy street’ for many in this era was difficult enough on its own to manage. As you can imagine, coming to retirement age in your mid 30’s with a family to support is not an easy position to find yourself in.
We re-called our amazing honeymoon adventure in Canada and took inspiration from our stay at Clayquot wilderness resort, not even knowing it was ‘glamping’ and what that actually meant. The glamping market in the UK was just emerging. Many of the offerings were basic and without some of those home comforts like power, light and refrigeration. We could see there was opportunity to take this up a few notches. We thought to offer something on the scale in between the two.
A Spiritual Nudge And A Link To Great Family Moments
We kept our plans a complete secret in fear that it would hamper any changes in Adam’s rugby. Unknowingly, my spray tan lady (gone are those days) in Worcester was also a spiritualist. Having not told anyone about our plans (or asked her about her other services), I surprisingly learnt she had a few things to say to me. She said there was going to be massive change ahead. In a confused voice she told me that an older lady was giving her corn to give to me. She is saying “you will be happy there”.
So, after this spiritual prompt and the connection Adam had to a farm he used to visit as child for family holidays, we stuck a pin tin the map and focused our searches in North Cornwall. I spent one day a week for the next 6 months travelling to Cornwall to look at properties. I had to make a few polite declines and apologies on the doorstep for wasting anyones time followed by a few doors slammed in my face. We had no time to waste looking at properties I knew didn’t have the potential. We were in the search for the next chapter of our lives, a home and a place to run a business. It was a triple ‘whammy’.
When You Know, You Know
The drive through the gates at East Thorne was so clear to me and I knew straight away. Guided only by the buzzy feeling inside and shamelessly backed up by the fact my favourite light fitting would fit perfectly in what I envisaged would (one day) be a beautiful dining room. A bit easier to admit this now things have worked out. This was the one we were to risk everything on !
In December 2010 we made our offer for East Thorne with every penny we had whilst Adam was still under contract that was due to finish in May of 2011. When the club got wind that our perfect little house had been sold, they pulled Adam in and offered another 2 year deal. Adam did his best to delay signing anything whilst the sale was going through for East Thorne and one of the hardest decisions we had to make in the process was turning down what they had offered whilst things were still up in air. We came to the decision to decline the rugby contract offer despite Adam still starting every game. The trade off being that we now had a plan and were in some way in control of our futures.
The Move Into The Unknown
I moved down to Cornwall Feb 2011 and rented one of our cottages (not so cosy at the time) with our 4 year old daughter to get her settled into a school she may not have even gone to. Adam stayed in Worcester to see the remaining few months out of his contract. With no WIFi, my office was the wintery doorstep whilst it was light and I started to pull our ideas together, I bought the yurts and still had no firm place for them to go or jobs to fall back on if it didn’t work out. The only way was forward.I vividly remember Adams coach Richard Hill saying that he thought we were nuts turning down the contract (which on occasions I agreed with). With that, Adam played his last game in May, taking the Warriors back up into the premiership. We completed on the following Monday to start the next chapter of our lives in Cornwall; a place where we knew no one, had no connection to ,with no experience in hospitality… oh and also finding out I was 20 weeks pregnant after trying for 4 years!!
As the build moved along so did my bump as a secondary development with no time for nice thoughts of nesting and exciting baby preparations. I cried with every pre-birth visit to the health visitor from the guilt of not even thinking about the pregnancy. My mum cried with every visit to us as our lives descended in chaos and uncertainty. Septic tanks broke their banks, barn walls fell down and yurt frames got heavier as our due date got closer. We look back now and wonder how we did it as often most people do when they set up a business.
No Corners Turned But No Going Back
It was hard to take pictures of the progress because it felt so overwhelming at the time and so we have only our memories to serve. Along with the tough moments, we had some amazing times too. Friends and family came in their droves to help. We often chuckled at the calibre of our workforce. A millionaire wood chopper and the legend and gentlemen David Watkins OBE raking a whole 3 acres of left over grass that filled a transit van.
With Richard Hills words of wisdom ringing in my ears, we opened that August with a newly renovated shower block, two cottages gutted and 4 yurts with decks complete. I remember our first changeover, I had checked our second set of guests into a yurt. They had unpacked and headed out to explore a world I knew nothing about (outside my gates). They returned a little later, knocked on the door and politely asked where their food had gone. Adam was unaware that I had checked them in and thought I had forgotten to clean the fridge out from the first set of guests. He poured the entire contents of their fridge into the bin ! Needless to say we figured that out pretty quickly and with a wipe (and a giggle) we returned their contents to them.
The First Season
That Summer was the wettest EVER on record and whilst our yurts were from a traditional source, they started to give us problems with leaks and damp smells. They were simply not equipped to deal with the wet British climate. We had a contingency of £12K to find a solution and started our search for a canvas that was better suited. We sourced and bespoke deigned our new covers addressing all the issues we had quickly come across. With the canvas maker not even knowing what a yurt was, we took the risk. It had to work. The whole build was finished by October of that year with a full house of 9 yurts and 4 cottages. Shortly after the half term, it was all packed away again for the winter to have our baby boy.
No one ever prepares you for the mum guilt as I sat 2 weeks after giving birth in my make shift office with no heating, a baby in a travel seat and only a spare outdoor patio table and chairs to serve as my desk for the VAT return. Hormonal crying, guilt and longing for a normal maternity leave, we pushed on.
The spring came and we re-opened for Easter with a few curve balls under the belt and a new family member to throw in the mix. Changeovers became a military operation of feeding, nappy changes and desperate feelings of trying to take in the precious moments. Anyone running their own business from home knows those first few years (especially with a young family) are the moments you draw strength from when the times get tough. Because of all these situations and what you overcome, you know, whatever happens in the future … it always gets done.
Every year we set up with a tweak here and a new project there. It felt like East Thorne had started to breathe again from its redundant beginnings with us. Our children grew up alongside our guests as we shared special moments around the campfire, riding bikes for the first time, grass cutting, animal feeding and hide and seek in the dark with torches. We learnt to take our greatest happiest of moments from those simple things.
Every year, that time just after February half term was for us, some of the hardest months and a time we grew to dread. Setting back up in the cold was not fun. We were often working very long days, dodging the turbulent weather whilst we played what we called ‘divorce kurplunk’. With some 800 yurt poles the set up was often fraught with collapsing frames as we learnt our trade. It did get easier after a few attempts but we learnt, this was not a job we could do together. We were hungry to find a way to take all the best bits of the yurt and find a building that we didn’t have to put up and take down.
The Start Of The Evolution
We developed out first Roundhouse in 2016 and ‘dipped out toe’ with our maiden Roundhouse – The Secret Roundhouse. This beauty re-set the glamping bar as the industry continued to grow. It had underfloor heating, en-suite and a wood-burning hot tub. With the deep seated positive feeling we had trusted on so far, feedback from our guests and the various tourism awards we notched up, we knew this evolution path was the one we needed to explore.
Enthusiastically not knowing what was ahead, a further 4 family units were built in 2019 and had not even seen one whole season before the first lockdown. Like everyone else, it hit us like a sack of shit. We gained great support from our guests that all but a few moved their bookings and held on to the lessons we learned from the first yurt build. Cherishing the special times and knowing it would pass.
Like most, we took the beautiful moments and blessings in that stressful time and rode the wave with full belief we could get through it. During lockdown we pushed on with the build of Cynefin our most luxury sleep 2 Roundhouse. Three cottage bathrooms were refurbished and additional temporary bathroom pods were added for our remaining yurts. They arrived straight from a prison and although we not the prettiest, they served as way for all our units to be self contained.
With a successful second family Roundhouse season under our belt, we knew we had to phase out the remaining yurts. In November 2021 we started planning for the final 4 yurts to be replaced. The build beginning in January 2022 to open in May 2022. We now had 10 Roundhouses to ‘complete’ the evolution … well, for a little minute anyway.
From The Coal Face
As with how most small businesses start; We have been the cleaner, the groundskeeper, the marketing director, the front of house, the health and safety officer, the reception team and many more faces. We are still at the coal face in many respects in all of these capacities. The journey we have taken is why East Thorne will always remain so important and personal to us.
Our guests have always been at the heart of everything we do. They too have experienced their own special moments alongside us. It has been our biggest achievement. To know that in some small way, what we have built has given others those special memories in the same way it has given ours. So here’s to the next 12 and what that may bring. Whatever that is, we’ll be ready, as we always have been.
Much Love The Blacks x