How it feels to close down 11 businesses: A CEO’s coronavirus diary
PUBLISHED: 06:00 27 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:02 27 March 2020
A former London banker who recently bought a Norfolk hotel has revealed his heartbreak after coronavirus brought his business to a halt.
Philip Turner, founder of the Chestnut Group, who recently took over the Globe Inn, in Wells-next-the-Sea, has had to close it before even opening – along with 10 other pubs and boutique hotels he owns in the region.
He had launched takeaway services and even a village shop to help the community but these have also now closed.
Mr Turner, who employs 338 staff across venues in the East of England – the Northgate hotel, Bury St Edmunds, the Ship at Dunwich, The Crown at Westleton and the Black Lion in Long Melford – had only just signed on the dotted line to buy the Globe, his first acquisition in Norfolk when coronavirus struck.
He compiled a diary of events which saw him go from making that purchase with high hopes – to now, managing his entire business on lockdown.
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“My number one priority is my team and at the moment everyone is healthy and that is actually what matters,” he said. “They have been paid for March and I shall be furloughing nearly everyone. I would love to have our businesses up and running but it’s important everyone stays fit and healthy so that we can hopefully re-open in the summer.”
Mr Turner, the son of bespoke furniture maker Edwin Turner, of Gislingham, near Eye, Suffolk, grew up in Norfolk, attending Old Buckenham Hall school and then studied economics at Bristol University. He worked in London as a banker and it was after spending a weekend in Wiltshire enjoying the roaring fires and cosy atmosphere of various pubs there that this became a template for his future business plan.
Here is his account of 10 days “of ups, downs, confusion and frustration in the world of hospitality”.
Day 1: I completed on the acquisition of The Globe, The Buttlands, Wells-Next-the-Sea; my first hotel in Norfolk, a restaurant and inn overlooking a pretty, leafy Georgian square with 19 en suite bedrooms.
Day 2: I reopen The Three Blackbirds, Woodditton, Cambridgeshire, following a two year renovation following a devastating fire in March 2018 along with The Barn, at the rear of the property, with nine new bedrooms. The venue offers original features but many of the old paintings and photographs were saved from the fire. It has 100 restaurant covers.
Day 3: I give a TV appearance demanding more support for the industry post-budget.
Day 4: I am interviewed for two articles including this newspaper.
Day 5: As CEO of the Chestnut Group, a private company which purchases, develops and operates premium pubs, restaurants and boutique hotels in the East of England, I initiate and manage a formal Covid-19 operational policy.
Day 6: As coronavirus worsens, I open a village shop at the Three Blackbirds for those struggling to get what they need from supermarkets; it sells pantry essentials, ready to eat treats and ‘ready, steady’ bags which include raw ingredients and recipe cards.
Day 7: I also launch 11 take-away offerings from my venues.
Day 8: I organise four communications to shareholders re the Covid-19 impact, five communications to the team reassuring them that they are my number one priority along with guests at my establishments; I sort three formal communications to them explaining our position,
Day 9: Following renewed government advice, at 5.30pm I adhere to enforced adaptations to my 11 businesses. This includes closing our pubs and restaurants but initially keeping hotels open but with food only served in bedrooms or an isolated area.
That night, at 8pm I do a video broadcast to the whole business.
Day 10: Until there is clarity from the government on whether staff can work in my business on a volantary basis, and still be eligible for the job retention scheme, I take the difficult but necessary decision to close everything; all my businesses including my hotels. Effectively, we are on lockdown.
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