One sunny afternoon in late August, Julie Johns (JJ) sat down with Head Housekeeper, Liz Kingdom (LK), to reflect on her experience of working at The Nare and how things have changed since starting in the kitchen as a teenager...
[JJ]: So Liz, you have been working at The Nare for nearly 20 years in total but how did you first come to know of the hotel?
[LK]: Well I was born in the area and lived most of my life in Veryan so I knew of The Nare from quite a young age. Also, my father was employed as Restaurant Manager when I was about 10. I started to work at the hotel at about 13 years old, just during the school holidays. I started in the kitchen, making toast and tea at breakfast and in my second year I was trusted to waitress in the Dining Room – aged 14 – this was the 1970s, so things were a bit different back then.
[JJ]: And then you returned some time later?
[LK]: Yes, in my late 30s, I came back to waitress in the Dining Room. My father had since retired and the hotel was now owned by Mr and Mrs Gray and Mrs Burt was the General Manager. I also worked in the pastry room, which I loved the challenge of. I was actually instrumental in introducing a wider variety of homemade cakes for Residents’ Afternoon Tea. Back then there were only two types - a fruit cake and a madeira cake, which was either vanilla, chocolate or coconut. After a couple of years I said to the chef, how do you feel if I make a plain Victoria sponge. He said ‘Go for it!’ So I started to introduce many different cakes and the guests loved it.
[JJ]: What was Mrs Gray like?
[LK]: She was a lovely lady and one I had huge respect for. She certainly had an aura about her and yet at the same time she was so very friendly, and she certainly knew what she wanted. I always remember the time she asked for 4 chips with her dinner and when her plate arrived with more she sent it back saying, ‘I only asked for 4 chips’. This was how she was in all areas - what she said was exactly what she wanted and it was best to give her nothing else.
[JJ]: After 11 years you left the hotel, to take up the role of Food and Beverage Manager at a local retirement village, and then you returned 7 years later to become Head Housekeeper. How did that come about?
[LK]: Yes. After those years away I decided I wanted to return as I had missed the place so much. Thankfully Mrs Burt remembered me. At the time the hotel needed a Head Housekeeper and Mrs Burt thought I would be a great fit. I hadn’t done any housekeeping at that point and I hadn’t a clue what was involved. I inherited a well-established team though and they quickly showed me the ropes.
[JJ]: Did you notice any changes between when you left and when you returned as Head Housekeeper?
[LK]: Not really, it still felt the same. The one thing I did notice was that the bedrooms were larger and there were more suites. It felt like coming home to be honest and because I knew so many of the staff it made the transition easy. When you walk in somewhere and don’t know a soul it can be quite daunting. It might sound silly but it felt very comfortable straight away.
[JJ]: What is the greatest challenge in Housekeeping?
[LK]: I think that has to be the logistics of turning around multiple rooms between check-out and check-in, especially when you have a lot of departures and arrivals in one day. The thing is, you cannot do anything to get yourself ahead because you need to get into that room. We’ve had times when we’ve had half the hotel departing/arriving and you sit there and you pray ‘I hope someone goes early!’ - as you can imagine, 19 rooms in two hours is a huge task!
[JJ]: How would you describe The Nare to someone who hadn’t been?
[LK]: I think it’s a very comfortable place to come and the guests always seem very relaxed. I think that’s because the ethos has always been that guests’ comfort comes first. I think that is a big thing and something a lot of other hotels just don’t appreciate. It feels like a big family too, because we have guests coming back regularly. When people walk in the door and you’ve seen them for several years you build a special connection with them...
...Traditional Country House is the only way I can describe it. Guests of all ages seem to really enjoy the charm of the tradition service. Even some of our younger guests say ‘Oh isn’t it nice to have proper afternoon tea, silver service, and flambés’. They are now having experiences that they’ve never had at a hotel before.
[JJ]: What is the best thing about working at The Nare?
[LK]: It’s the guests, definitely. With so many returning guests you really get to know them, which you simply wouldn’t in other hotels. I do miss that a little now working in housekeeping. You do have conversations with guests in the corridor or if you need to take something to a room, but when you’re working in the Dining Room that is part of your role. In housekeeping though you can’t keep knocking on doors and saying ‘hello I’m the housekeeper can I have a chat?’ If it’s somebody that I‘ve known for many years I would go and knock on the door and say ‘I’ve just come to say hello, is everything ok with the room?
[JJ]: Is there a funny story you can share from you time at The Nare?
[LK]: Ha, plenty, but few that could be published! One I do remember…I went into a bedroom one day and the lady had a drawer pulled out from the cupboard, beside the bed, upside down. And I said ‘Is everything alright?’ ‘Oh Yes’, she said ‘I can’t get into the bed cos I’ve got short legs so I’ve taken the drawer out to use as a step.’ ‘Oh my!’ I said ‘Leave it with me, but please don’t step on it, you’ll put your foot through it!’ I wasn’t worried about the drawer, just her foot. We’ve now got purpose built steps for guests that require them.
[JJ]: How would you describe The Nare in 3 words?
[LK]: Elegant, comfortable, like a family. That’s 6 words isn’t it – ok I’ll go with ‘like a family’ – and by that I mean guests and staff.
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