How do you end up running a Pop Up Hotel?
Meet Sarah Forsyth - owner & manager of Belle Hotel
Ok, so… the background.. I had studied a BA in French and Spanish at Leeds University and graduated with a respectable 2:1 so naturally, went to London to become an Estate Agent!
I got brilliant sales training and picked up a lot of legal practicalities along the way, but ultimately knew that the London property scene was not going to be a very healthy environment for my country bumpkin mind and character. After leaving London I wondered if perhaps teaching was the way forward for me, so moved back up home, to Cumbria, and took a job with Young Enterprise working with primary school children. Very quickly I realised that teaching was definitely not a good career choice for me and progressed into the hospitality industry in my quest to find the right career. Fortunately, in the Lake District, this meant I actually got to use my degree occasionally and once was actually asked by some Mexican tourists what dogging was – I explained in Spanish in the packed dining room so as not to raise too many eyebrows..!!
From running a busy restaurant I moved into a marketing agency – a dream role which combined my love of sales, communication with clients, face to face meetings and a huge learning curve about websites, graphics, imagery.. It even allowed me to indulge my love of writing in a commercial capacity – expressing what businesses struggled to put down on paper themselves. It was a brilliant role and the clients I worked with ranged from colleges to retirement homes, luxury villa companies to classic car companies, travel, hospitality, outdoor clothing and many more. It was broad, challenging and very rewarding. Ultimately though, I was over-achieving for a man who had promised me the earth and delivered a pretty raw deal in return – I worked harder, believing that if I could just do better, the rewards he had promised would surely appear. They didn’t.
During a holiday to the Algarve, I received an offer from a Mozambiquan in Tavira to go and live and work at his stable yard with his family - it proved too tempting! So I handed in my notice, let out my house and went off to Portugal to conquer 2 long-held ambitions – to learn Portuguese and to ride competently.
This was life in at the deep end. A fast track to learning through immersion, isolation and total engagement and enthrallment. It was exhausting!! Fortunately my French and Spanish carried me for a few weeks before I started to grasp what was actually going on.. I was in charge of children when I didn’t speak their native language. I took tourists out on hacks when I wasn’t too sure of the route. I fed horses usually between half and double what they were supposed to have and arrived back at the yard long after dark many an evening. It was quite funny a lot of the time – just in my private world of not having a clue what was happening but definitely trying my very best all day long.
I had discovered horse riding as an adult and realised that it really helped my over-active brain and made me focus and become calm and relaxed. Magic! So this opportunity for brain stimulation with something I naturally enjoyed and also the physical discipline which worked very much as I now know meditation to were a perfect combination.
There were so many incredible adventures during the 2 months I was there before having an accident where my foot was stamped on (whilst wearing trainers and standing on concrete) by a huge Lusitano stallion – and my favourite horse on the yard! – when it had just been shod and a nail wasn’t fully home… Needless to say, I could piece this information together based upon the x-ray I saw of my big toe later on that night as it was clearly in about 9 pieces with a great big hole punched right through the centre!
A good friend flew out to rescue me after I’d eventually reported being left alone in my room, unable to move (or my foot just bled constantly!) or get up out of bed for about 3 days after the accident. Feeling very pathetic and alarmingly quickly worn down by the isolation, I was busted out and taken off to Sagres for a week of being looked after kindly. I didn’t learn resilience or self-reliance – I learnt to rely on other people and to take as well as give. It was a very profound lesson in not always being the strong one, allowing others to do their best by me and to accept help however it came – stop being a fusspot perfectionist and just be grateful.
It was when I returned home from this adventure that I went freelance doing copywriting and marketing because I lived in a small village, couldn’t drive (I actually couldn’t walk either!) but I did have a laptop and a phone which was everything required for the job! I began with one contract for Lancaster University for £1,000 and I just winged it. This eventually led to doing some work for a local and very successful festival, Kendal Calling where they needed someone with some customer service and hospitality experience to head up the new glamping area and guess who happened to be in the pub next to the right person at the right time..!
Incidentally, the thing I love most about the creation of Belle Hotel was the realisation of the importance of something that happened in childhood… As a dedicated 8 year old who had saved up her 25p a week pocket money as well as doing other little jobs around the house (e.g. dusting – 10p, watering the plants – 10p, hoovering – 50p, raking up leaves – I think this was £1 as it was a full day’s job!) my parents offered to reward my frugality and commitment by matching my savings when I announced that I would like to spend the money on buying a canvas tent. Talk about destiny – just listening to my inner child and what my heart had always been lifted by would have given me this dream job years ago if I’d stopped listening to my head and simply tuned back into my 8 year old heart…
By Sarah Forsythe - the owner/manager/laundry lady/van driver for Belle Hotel Luxury Camping.