In times of trouble, where negativity reigns, often positivity comes forth. From crisis, the opportunity to roll up one’s sleeves and help out with true British spirit arises. This is exactly what happened with the Suffolk hotel industry in the early stages of the Covid -19 pandemic. Just as in World War Two when our hotels became military hospitals or bases for the home guard to live, The Sudbury & Lavenham Hotels Forum was formed to help the pandemic effort with their initiative Hotels for Hospitals.
Put simply, hotels are experts at hosting people. The Covid -19 health crisis needed just that; hosts with beds and the expertise to feed and look after people. Initially, the guests were to be those who had been in hospital, who were Covid – 19 free, and now recovering. This would allow valuable hospital bed space to be taken by a patient with more acute medical needs.
Here you can read how, through the initiative of Hotels for Hospitals, hoteliers have been proactive, planned to host a new type of patient/guest which would, in the process, help save the tourism industry so crucial to Suffolk. And whilst Hotels for Hospitals isn't in action right now, you can find out what the future holds for this wonderful initiative.
SAVING LIVES AND THE HOTEL INDUSTRY
The reality of the Covid-19 pandemic started to be become apparent in February 2020. The impact on the NHS looked huge. Coupled with this strain, was the impending devastation on the UK economy. For many, including the hospitality industry, lockdown would have a devastating effect. In Suffolk, tourism remains the region’s largest non-government business sector, generating over £2 billion revenue annually and employing more than 30,000 people. Action had to be taken.
And so The Sudbury & Lavenham Hotels Forum was formed by Frank Lawrenson, owner of Rectory Manor just outside Lavenham. Frank was up until recently a Cabinet Member on the District Council. With a wide array of contacts across local government, he saw a way in which the hotel industry could combine forces with the NHS to the benefit of both, through Hotels for Hospitals.
The mission of the Forum with Hotels for Hospitals was to help save lives as well as protecting the local economy.
THE NEED TO DELIVER A SOLUTION RAPIDLY
The events of lockdown happened rapidly. Empty supermarket shelves, schools closing their doors to pupils and the cancellation of much looked forward to events and holidays were played out through news channels. As the fundamental changes to daily life emerged, the increasing need to help those both infected and potentially infected by Covid-19 escalated hourly. Therefore, The Sudbury & Lavenham Hotels Forum had to work quickly to find a timely and effective solution with Hotels for Hospitals.
ENGAGING WITH THE HOTELS
With the mission in mind, twenty hotels were initially contacted in the Sudbury and Lavenham area who had a total of 356 beds. Competing for the hotel managers’ attention, with guests anxious to talk about their affected bookings, staff anxious for their jobs and imminent closure, The Sudbury & Lavenham Hotels Forum managed to sow the seed of their idea.
A TRULY COLLABORATIVE APPROACH
Every great idea has its challenges and The Forum found engaging with the right person at the NHS just one of the challenges.
Communication with the NHS was solved when the local politicians including MP, James Cartlidge, Matthew Hicks, Leader of Suffolk County Council and John Ward, Leader of Babergh District Council were persuaded to engage in the idea of Hotels for Hospitals. The tenacity of the Forum is not to be glossed over here!
No one doubted the great idea. The hurdles were massive. But The Forum was determined.
A COMMUNITY UNITED
By the end of the process, the Forum managed to secure 200 beds for the NHS in the Lavenham area. However, the success of the lobbying efforts went much much further.
A gargantuan effort by Babergh went on to secure a further 1300 beds, resulting in a total of 1500 hotel beds across Suffolk. This is equivalent to more than the entire number of spaces in Suffolks's two general hospitals.
As the success of our project grew, the government employed an agency to replicate the scheme across the country. It is unknown how many bed spaces this went on to secure.
However, as far as Suffolk is concerned, it's worth pointing out that these weren't all big hotels, in some cases they were small family B&B's with as little as two or three rooms, all willing to take in hospital patients or in some cases isolating NHS workers or even homeless people off the street.
To recognise their commitment, participating hotels, guest houses and B&B’s that agreed to allow their properties to be used by the NHS are entitled to carry this badge.
NOT FOR NOW BUT STILL PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
After weeks of intense work, the Forum had the incredibly disappointing news that the Hotels For Hospitals initiative wasn’t going to be progressed. Instead, care homes would be used for those discharged from hospital.
In a statement, the NHS health board explained: “We have now been given a clear ‘steer’ from central government regarding additional bed capacity for patients that need to be discharged from a hospital setting. The bed space which we are able to purchase for our population should be in a care, residential or nursing homes, community hospitals or in patients own homes with support from carers.”
The result of that decision will forever be remembered with great sadness not just here in Suffolk, but across the country.
Not to be deterred, The Forum will continue to push for the preliminary work to be completed, so that if the need arises in the future, the hotels are able to quickly and safely step up and repurpose to deliver a Hotels for Hospitals model.
On a more positive note, as part of Babergh's Coronavirus strategy, the council have been able to house every homeless person in the region. An extraordinary achievement in itself.
IT’S A HUGE THANK YOU!
Thanking all the hotels, guest houses and B&B's who committed to opening up their homes and their businesses to be a part of the Hotels for Hospitals scheme goes without saying. Nothing could have happened without their support. We hope to add a complete list of them shortly, in the meantime, please look out for the logo!
The participating members of The Sudbury and Lavenham Hotels Forum who got this project going are:
Graham McGregor at Hintlesham Hall Hotel
Claire Weeks at Newmans Lodge
Thomas Wilkinson at Rectory Manor
Peter Osborne & Matt Manning at Stoke By Nayland Hotel, Golf & Spa
Ben Lee at The Black Boy Hotel
Terry Hunnybell at The Bridge Street Historic Guest House
Julie & Dominique Tropeano and Andy McLaughlin at The Lavenham Great House
Charlie Yiasemis at The George and Dragon
Paddy & Maggie Lawrence at The Old Rectory Kettlebaston
James Sanders at The Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa
Secondly, a big thank you to all our community leaders that collaborated with us to deliver Hotels for Hospitals. Their support and commitment progressed the idea from its concept towards a reality that encompassed the country. They include:
The Member of Parliament for South Suffolk – Mr James Cartlidge
The Leader of Suffolk County Council – Councillor Mathew Hicks
The Leader of Babergh District Council – Councillor John Ward
Gavin Fisk, Assistant Director for Housing at Babergh who’s team tracked down a further 1300 hotels
The Lead for COVID-19 Demand & Capacity, Suffolk & North East Essex – Lizzie Mapplebeck
West Suffolk Hospital Deputy Director of Workforce – Denise Pora
Finally, a big thank you to Sonia Shelcott, Communications Director at Millriver Publicity who provided her services for free.
Forming and working with The Sudbury & Lavenham Hotels Forum has proved how successful collaboration can be through a common purpose dedicated to saving lives, as well as communities.
The Forum’s intention is to go on to complete the planning outlined in our preliminary research so that we can be much better prepared should we need Hotels for Hospitals to step into action in the future.
If you would like to find out more and get in contact, please do so below.
Get in touch with Hotels 4 Hospitals to learn more about our work and how you can get involved.