It has been described as a home from home. It has been called a six-star residence. But many people who pass the three storey building on South Marine Drive in Bridlington still think the building is used as a rest home.
This year Alderson House is celebrating its ten-year anniversary, and invited the Echo to go behind the scenes to see what a unique and special place it is.
Manager Helen Birkbeck is both caring and easy going as she chats effortlessly to guests and staff. You would never guess she has a previous career as a corporate banker, but after a decade as the face of Alderson House you can see why she is respected by everyone she meets.
“People think we are a care home – we are not a care home we are a hotel by the sea.” Helen explained. “We are not the British Legion Branch but work alongside them. Anybody who has an armed forces background can qualify for Royal British Legion help in the form of a holiday, financial advice, and counselling. I think the best description of Alderson House is a Hotel with a Heart.”
There are three centres similar to Alderson House in the UK. Byng House -Southport, Somerset Legion House - Weston-Super-Mare and Bennet House -Portrush, Northern Ireland.
“Guests can come for one or two weeks and there is a criteria set for eligibility. Our oldest visitor was 105 and she was dancing in the lounge bar every night, and our youngest guest was only 4 days old.” continued Helen as she showed off the various facilities and some of the 25 well-appointed rooms.
“We employ 36 staff in total and are open for forty seven weeks a year to guests, and close in January for staff training and refurbishment.. There are five weeks in the summer and one week at Easter that are specifically set aside for family holidays.”
Sitting in the relaxing conservatory after sampling a delicious home-made scone made that morning by resident cook Jane Notley, I was introduced to Anna Roseby, as the Entertainments Co-ordinator who is responsible for planning all the activities, trips and events. Anna is also responsible for running the weekly Poppy Club from 2pm-4pm on a Tuesday afternoon; this is a social club set up for local beneficiaries to attend.
“My daughter says I have the best job in Brid.” said ex police officer Anna with an infectious smile. “As long as everybody is happy that’s all that matters. I love sitting down with the guests and finding out their stories, some are sad, but a lot are uplifting and this place hopefully lets visitors leave their problems behind for a week or two.”
Having also been at Alderson House for the full ten years of business Anna realises that it is a whole team effort of both day and night staff that give the hotel its welcoming feel, right from first impressions checking in at reception. Over and over again the guests comment on their caring attitude, that they go above and beyond to make sure they have a fabulous stay - from the spotless rooms, to the varied menus, the friendly bar staff to the informative drivers. “We have had some guests staying with us during family breaks who perfectly fold all their bedding every day, and when they leave all the linen is left immaculately folded outside the door.”
This gives a big hint to the years of military training that has been instilled into some veterans. After decades in ‘civvy street’ old habits are hard to break. Some guests have returned from combat zones and witnessed horrific scenes. The staff are always on hand to talk through any difficulties visitors may be encountering.
“We want our guests to make it feel like a family visiting a family.” added Anna. “We are mindful of some guests who are suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and hold a dedicated holiday week in October and another after Easter where we provide facilities to the charity ‘Combat Stress’ for veterans that have been through their treatment program.
Anna is looking forward to the warm summer days when she can organise more day trips out and hire the nearby beach chalet to make the most of our beautiful beach. But the running costs for what is known as the House Amenities Fund is huge, and finding the £80,000 per year is a daunting task.
“There are fundraising events such as the Summer Fayre on 1st July (Armed Forces Day), but we do rely heavily on local donations from collections, and also the goodwill of the public.”
Walking around the building there is an atmosphere of caring relaxation. There is a nod or two to the military, with areas dedicated to Service Club Plaques and the specially commissioned Remembrance garden at the front of the building. And of course the highly respected poppy symbol is dotted throughout…after all this is what the ‘Hotel with a heart’ stands for.