Regulations that caused the cancellation of marriage ceremonies during the pandemic, has prompted a prestigious wedding venue near Corfe Castle to push forward with its redevelopment plans and to diversify its business.
And while weddings are still an important part of the mix, the new owners of Kingston Country Courtyard, Catherine Lavin and Tony Edwards see a big future in bed and breakfast, events and group bookings.
A resurfaced entrance and new signage – just a few of the changes
“The dream is always to have your own business”
Catherine Lavin and Tony Edwards, who only took over the business in June 2019, have spent the past two and a half years refurbishing rooms and landscaping the site.
The couple met when they both worked for the big corporate hospitality chain Marriott, where Tony was employed for 20 years in front of house and Catherine for 14 years in finance. The couple have three children.
Catherine said she had always wanted her own place:
“It’s the dream. With the hours of work in hospitality, the dream is always to have your own business, where you can create your own culture and have greater satisfaction.”
Still developing the business – Tony and Catherine say they are ‘in it for the long haul’
Professional but friendly
The aim is to bring in the professionalism of the corporate world but achieve that within a friendly, family-run atmosphere.
When Catherine spotted the business, which is part of the wider Kingston Barn Farm owned by Alan and Ann Fry, they chatted it through with Tony’s brother Chas Perry and his wife Julie over ‘many barbecue conversations’ and they came on board to make up the team.
The courtyard used to be part of an extensive working farm but has now been converted into guest accommodation
“Plenty of potential”
“The venue was very famous for weddings, and they weren’t so geared towards B and B. We knew there was plenty of potential.”
But of course, after just over six months, Covid struck and forced the business to close, apart from providing accommodation for a few key workers, and staff were furloughed.
The listed 16th century barn – where weddings and big group events are held
“Covid forced our hand”
“I have never had to shut down a hotel before, so it was exceptionally emotional. But we had always said we wanted to refurbish – Covid forced our hand and pushed it quicker.”
The couple decided to go for a distinctive rustic feel, with many handmade furnishings using local wood and crafted metalwork. The buildings were formerly used by the blacksmiths and farriers, the dairy and a sawmill, so the idea has been to retain that country feel.
The bedrooms follow a rustic styling with natural wood and specially designed fittings
“Getting away from it all”
It’s meant an investment of more than £70,000 and there is still more to do.
“When people choose to come and stay at a place like ours, they are looking for something a bit different, less corporate, to really feel like they are getting away from it all.”
The wedding business collapsed through Covid, with just two small 30-person events during the two years. And while weddings are now back, it has forced them to look at holding more events, creating a destination restaurant and catering more for group bookings. They also want to build on local connections and use more locally sourced produce.
A warm welcome from general manager Claudine Powell on reception
The restaurant – open to guests and visitors alike
“All year round”
They have held murder mystery and medieval evenings, and wellbeing retreats and are now looking at Christmas party events for the winter season.
“We now have a business that is much more diverse and all year round.”
“We haven’t had a full 12 months’ trading in normal circumstances yet, so we are still finding our way.”
Corfe Castle – the view from the grounds
“Everything has developed so quickly”
“We are still trying to find how everything fits in to the business because everything has developed so quickly. But we are not here for the short term, we are here for the long haul.”
The restaurant is open for breakfast from 8 am to 9.30 am, lunch is from 12.30 pm until 4.30 pm and evening meals are served from 6 pm to 9 pm, closing at 11 pm, seven days a week.
Plans for Christmas parties are already on the menu
- More details can be found on the Kingston Country Courtyard website.