First published Friday, March 28, 2014
Sometimes, out of the blue, you can get a phone call, or a letter, even an email, that brings the world as you know it to a grinding halt. All of a sudden, everything that has been part of your everyday routine changes dramatically, without warning, and you find yourself wondering just what you are going to do next.
This has happened to one of our members this week, and she has given us permission to share her story. Katherine runs Manorbier Bed & Breakfast, and has been doing so successfully for a number of years, building the business each year. Over the winter months she refurbished one of the guest rooms, an ensuite bathroom and the stand alone private bathroom.
On Wednesday afternoon, a friend of Katherine’s rang our office asking if she was attending one of our courses, as they needed to get hold of her urgently. She wasn’t, however due to an awareness of other courses going on in the area, we were able to track down Katherine and put her in touch with her friend. Shortly afterwards, Katherine got back in touch with our office to inform us that whilst out, her property had caught fire, resulting in serious damage to the guest bedrooms and upper floor of the building.
Further conversations on Thursday revealed that not only was the smoke damage in particular very extensive, it was also becoming apparent that the business would not be in a position to accept the guests booked for this weekend, or indeed the next couple of months. The insurance company had sent out the loss adjuster, who in turn called in reinforcements in the shape of a “Major Loss Adjuster” and building surveyor, and at present Katherine is not able to live in the property due to concerns over the structural safety of the building.
This morning Dennis, Katherine’s Membership Officer, and myself went out to see Katherine in person, at her request, to assist with drawing up a ‘battle plan’ with a view to working out what to do next. Before we started discussing ideas for a plan of action, Katherine took us upstairs and showed us the extent of the devastation to her home and business.
It was at this point that the vicious reality of Katherine’s situation hit home. Whilst the smell of smoke is evident as soon as you walk through the door, it is not until you turn right and look up into the stairwell that you begin to see the thick, black coating of soot on every single surface. Walls, ceilings, carpets, paintings and photographs are all blended into one, distinction of individual objects only really possible where something has been knocked aside by someone, showing the slightly lighter colour underneath. Every single item in the upper part of the house has been affected by smoke damage, from clothing to bedding to toothbrushes and towels. The source of the fire has been identified as an electrical fault, occurring in the void between the downstairs ceilings, and floor upstairs, but a full forensic investigation will now have to take place to further determine the exact cause and whether there are further risks still present.
The room in which the fire began is extremely badly damaged. Until the surveyor is able to come in, it is not known whether there is structural damage to the internal roof supports and so on, the ceilings are intact, but it is clear from the shattered glass in the picture frames that crunches underfoot when you walk along the corridor, and the visibility of the studs in the plasterboard on the wall that an intense heat was created by the fire. Additionally there will be further damage assessments to be made as a result of the means used to extinguish the fire. All of this adds up to Katherine’s business not being operable, and potentially for a significant part of the coming year.
Katherine has a well established business with a great reputation. She has great links with a broad range of businesses throughout the county, referring guests on to other locations when she is not able to accommodate them due to existing bookings. Before contacting us, she had already taken steps to make arrangements for those of her guests due to stay this weekend and over the next couple of weeks and thanks to the support of some very local businesses has been able to do so with relative ease. However understandably, she has concerns about those of her guests booked in later in the year (her bookings diary is looking very healthy) and wanted some help from us to guide her on how best to explain things to these people, and how to approach other things like her web presence, continuing conversations with the insurance company and so on. She also needed someone to simply listen to her.
Dennis and I spent a couple of hours with Katherine this morning, covering all of the above, and much more, some of it to do with the business, and also making sure that Katherine, and her son, are OK, and have support for them too. Over the coming weeks and months we will continue to work with Katherine when she needs us to make the road to recovery for her, her family, her home and her business as smooth as possible. Collating details of alternative accommodation providers for her guests, checking availability for some key dates in her diary, suggestions around content for her website and blog are just some of the things we’ve already started to do, and we’ll be doing more as the weeks go on.
In the past some of our members have described Pembrokeshire Tourism as being a community, and this event for Katherine has gone to prove that it is true. We’ve had other members offering help and support, giving her a call or sending an email, others providing short term solutions for the guests due this weekend and next week. No doubt there will be more to come as well. Whilst the insurance company, again a local provider, will take care of the major issues, the structural concerns, the renovation and redecorating, we will, as we do for all our members, provide a listening ear, a helping hand, and whatever else we can do to help get Katherine and her business back in business as soon as possible.