Barely three years old, this unique ‘rustic luxe’ venue with accommodation has bookings up to 2025.
In the grounds of the Georgian manor house Hothorpe Hall, The Woodlands has been designed as an exclusive use village-style venue for weddings and corporate functions. It includes 23 bedrooms in timber lodges and a treehouse. We talk to team member Siân Kalidoski.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
The Woodlands was completed – and days later hosted its first event – in May 2015, after about four years in the planning and a short build of around nine months!
The Woodlands is a multi-use event venue with accommodation set in the grounds of historic manor house Hothorpe Hall, run by the same team and owned by the same shareholders. Hothorpe Hall has been run by its current owners as an events centre since 1984 but business success and an increase in customers requiring single occupancy stays saw the need for more than its 55 bedrooms, so The Woodlands was born.
Initial plans just to build accommodation in response to customer demand then developed into adding a further event venue alongside The Woodlands’ accommodation. This meant that not only could the accommodation be used as an extension to Hothorpe Hall for larger events, but The Woodlands could also operate as a self-sufficient venue.
Tell us about your location and site
We are situated off a sleepy country lane that borders Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, but conveniently only 20 minutes from the M1/M6/A14 motorway network. Our location couldn’t really be better, in our opinion: It’s centrally located for customers to ‘meet in the middle’; it’s accessible by road and rail (Market Harborough station connects to London in about an hour, and the station is about 15 minutes away in a taxi), and its rural location with stunning panoramic views couldn’t get much better!
The Woodlands is of bespoke design and located in around four of Hothorpe estate’s 12 acre grounds. Having been designed to meet both our management’s ‘attractive, yet operationally functional’ requirements and the specification from council planners that its design was to mirror renovated agricultural outbuildings fitting to the Georgian era of the manor house, The Woodlands venue became a timber and glass structure.
The venue itself boasts lots of natural light from the many floor to ceiling glass panels, with some opening up fully so customers inside feel like they’re letting the outside in. The venue was designed with three key areas inside: a function/meeting/licensed ceremony area; a central bar and lounge; and a spacious dining room with hidden kitchens off it. Large sliding and double doors on dividing walls allow the space to open up so events can easily transition from a private space to more of a social occasion.
Around the venue in a semi-circular formation are 23 bedrooms of three different accommodation types. Two lodges, each housing six bedrooms with their own private access out on to a covered veranda; five ‘Snugs’ (mini wooden lodges) host two bedrooms in each with a communal lounge between the two bedrooms; and the piece de resistance is a single elevated luxury treehouse peeking through the trees.
It’s almost three years since it opened now and it’s proved very successful as an events venue hosting all types of functions. We’ve hosted well over 100 woodland weddings alone, as well as lots of business meetings, group retreats and craft breaks, corporate summer parties, wedding anniversary meals and team building events. On top of that the treehouse enjoys extremely good occupancy levels, reaching a new ‘leisure market’ with couples booking one to four night stays on a B&B basis (with some self-catering facilities provided).
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
Between the venue and accommodation are lawns and decked areas where events spill out in fine weather, although some venture further beyond the tree line into the woods to explore or enjoy the firepit and mini island, separated from The Woodlands by a River Welland tributary.
Nestled just inside the woods by the river is a clearing and a series of benches made from our fallen trees that are used mainly for outdoor wedding blessings, but sometimes also as an outdoor classroom for meetings. With planning permission granted, construction is underway (early 2018) for a rustic timber and corrugated iron open sided structure, to be known as ‘The Hideaway’, to open in late spring. This structure will use the same site as is used for outdoor blessings now but will be licensed to allow civil wedding ceremonies to take place, as well as provide shelter when used as an outdoor classroom.
What services do you offer?
Through serving a multitude of markets and hosting various types of events, our work isn’t seasonal and therefore we employ a team of staff. So, we offer most services in-house; operations such as kitchen, dining and housekeeping aren’t outsourced, for example, and unless a client wants specific furniture or AV, they use what we own.
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
Knowing we required a wooden build for The Woodlands venue and accommodation, we searched online and shortlisted various companies, finally employing the services of treehouse experts Blue Forest, who were also experienced at undertaking larger projects such as the Alton Towers Enchanted Village.
When it came to The Hideaway structure, we had already built up a good working relationship with local craftsman Eric Keal, who had constructed various items for our weddings, so he seemed the obvious choice. We were bound by certain guidelines from Northampton Registration Service to enable The Hideaway to be licensed and were keen for it to be different to the usual pergola or bandstand structure as it had to fit our ‘rustic luxe’ style. So, with a little help from Pinterest and Eric, we had our final design.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
Whether it be a wedding, meeting, party or other type of function, our in-house event co-ordinators work with each client to understand their needs and ensure that our delivery matches their expectations. That includes everything from timings, menus and room layouts through to what the welcome board should say as their guests/delegates arrive. Weddings tend to be more unique than meetings or parties, but we endeavour to help all clients if they want our suggestions about how they can make their event more memorable.
How do you publicise yourself?
Hosting events across lots of sectors, you could say ‘we’re everywhere’ to ensure we reach all of our markets and potential customers. It depends on the target audience and broad type of event as to how we publicise ourselves as it differs.
As an example, we reach the wedding market by social media; local lifestyle and regional wedding magazine advertising and editorial via a number of online wedding directories such as Coco Wedding Venues and Hitched. We also do data capture and subsequent email marketing, host open days and invest in SEO to drive people to our website, which in turn we try to convert to a brochure request and so on.
Serving a number of markets also means we encounter a reasonable level of cross-selling, so we take advantage of internal marketing opportunities – which are as simple as table talkers in bar areas and snap frames on the back of toilet doors – to the approximate 25,000 people that come through our doors for events each year.
How would you describe your ‘style’ or unique selling point
The Woodlands is often described as a woodland village-style event venue, due to its layout with the accommodation surrounding the venue space and the central grassed areas for socialising outside.
We use the phrase ‘rustic luxe’ specifically to describe The Woodlands as a wedding venue. What people often conjure up when they think of woodland weddings is rustic, outdoorsy, the possibility of traipsing through mud to get to the ceremony area, portaloos, what happens if it rains… The Woodlands offers all the charm, feeling of seclusion, ‘outdoorsiness’ and enchantment of a woodland wedding, but with the added benefit of a beautiful indoor, well-appointed venue space and accommodation, laid paths, lawns and a stunning treehouse newlywed suite. We feel the phrase ‘rustic luxe’ described it well!
What challenges have you faced?
The weather probably challenges us the most – from build stage through to everyday operations. If any customer wishes to make use of the outdoors at The Woodlands during their event, it is usually weather dependent but our fail-safe is the warm and dry indoor venue and accommodation we always have available to retreat to.
Thankfully the worst we encountered during the build was snowy spells which delayed things a little and then having to lay turf rather than seed in order for the grounds to look presentable for our first event. Having booked 50 weddings and numerous more meetings and functions who bought off-plan, we knew we had to meet our deadline to be able to host their events, as well as deliver what had been seen on paper!
As a lot of thought and planning went in to the development of The Woodlands, including the layout of the venue and the siting of the space and accommodation, we’ve been fortunate not to have come across many challenges in its operation. The outdoor ceremony area is fully accessible by path from the venue, accommodation and car park, and should rain spoil play, we always ensure a plan B is ready in the licensed indoor ceremony room.
Have you worked with any industry bodies or consultants?
In the latter half of 2017 we worked with wedding consultant Kelly Chandler who looked at our wedding sales and marketing activity and made recommendations on how we could achieve our business growth target. We implemented some changes from sales style and venue improvements, to current trends and improved marketing.
We put a lot of effort into planning and implementing these changes, so we didn’t re-launch our wedding offering until late December 2017, however, January’s wedding enquiries saw a huge increase so the signs are looking good for the growth we’re aiming to achieve.
What are your plans for next season?
We’re looking forward to our outdoor licensed ceremony structure being completed which will be our biggest change for the next wedding season. However, we’re always re-investing so we’re keeping an eye on trends and market research and will consider investing where we feel it’s needed most.
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
The diversity of our business is what makes it interesting as every day can be different. One day we could be hosting a wedding, the next a corporate staff BBQ and then we could be doing a whole venue turnover to welcome a large church group on a retreat who take over both The Woodlands and Hothorpe Hall’s venues and accommodation. From a marketing perspective our varied customer groups and event types certainly keep us busy!
What are you most proud of?
Three key things:
- The general business growth of Hothorpe Hall and The Woodlands, in particular over the last five years.
- Launching The Woodlands in 2015 and making a continued success of it, with future bookings up to 2025 so far!
- The re-brand and re-launch of weddings in late 2017, including new brochures, website section and a ‘new look’, which is already showing a return on investment.
Blue Forest www.blueforest.com
Eric Keal www.keals.net
Kelly Chandler Consulting www.kellychandlerconsulting.co.uk
Leicestershire, LE17 6QX