Community engagement case study: The Saddle Rooms

Bringing £1million per year to the local economy, The Saddle Room is integral to the local area. The hospitality business attracts visitors to stay in its on-site accommodation, eat in its restaurant, houses a wedding and conference facility and has an ethos to use local.

The restaurant, venue and accommodation brings 50,000 visitors per year to the area but it has ambitions to grow to ensure visitors have more to do, meaning they stay in the area for longer. However, in order for this to be realised, they need to attract more high quality staff through the door.  

This is a UK wide problem for the industry. The Tupgill Estate – where The Saddle Room is located – knows it can offer a quality of life for the right person. However, one thing that is preventing it is the lack of digital connectivity.  Leo Morris, the manager at The Saddle Rooms explains ‘we can offer a really good working and living environment which will not only help us but, also, the local economy, yet digital connectivity is key – people who live and work here want to be like normal people and be able to communicate efficiently’.

Leo explains ‘myself and the team can work 16 hour days when we have weddings. That is a hard shift and you cannot just say no to working or risk spoiling someone’s big day as this is a high-pressure situation and you only have one shot to get it 100% perfect. When wedding speeches are on, I could be ringing my kids to say goodnight, but because we have no signal it makes things difficult’.

This is Leo’s personal experience but the sentiment is felt across the team. Often staff will drive onto the Moors to speak to loved ones during their breaks. Leo’s need to support the wellbeing of his staff is one of the factors that drives his connectivity ambitions.

However, the lack of connectivity is not just about giving staff the chance to engage with their friends and relatives on breaks. It is, also, about making sure that everyone is contactable across the 400-acre site. ‘We need to be able to get hold of them for day-to-day reasons but, also, in an emergency’ Leo says. ‘We have had a situation recently where someone got trapped under a digger and they couldn’t ring for help – we just heard someone shouting and screaming’ explains Leo.

Luckily, these are rare occurrences. What the business struggles with is being able to get hold of maintenance or housekeeping staff easily in order for it to run seamlessly. Modern business relies on quick communication whether it be verifying identity or being contactable immediately.

Apps are available to support the smooth running of a hospitality business – one example is Flex Keeping, which, The Saddle Room uses.  Leo explains ‘it links housekeeping, to the front desk to maintenance and lost and found. Anyone can use it and allows the whole team to communicate across the site in real time. Though, for it to work properly – like any other five star business – we need to have connectivity. We can’t upload instantly if we haven’t got reliable WIFI or mobile data’.

Still, the latest 5G connectivity can do more.

The Saddle Rooms ‘has never had a masterplan’ admits Leo. Along with no digital connectivity, it has no mainland gas. Gas is integral to a hospitality businesses ‘chefs prefer to cook with gas as it gives instant heat but if we run out of gas we are in trouble’ says Leo.

Although rare. This has happened.

Yet put the latest digital connectivity – 5G – in place then the business can access new Internet of Things technology, which has the ability to stop this happening via tank telemetry using real time data alerting the office when tanks are low. ‘Currently we have two people – one for The Saddle Rooms and one for Forbidden Corner – check the nine tanks in foul weather every week’ Leo says. If a reliable, fast connection were available, this would not need to happen. ‘We shouldn’t need to think about it – no one else does. It would save hours, it would ensure we didn’t have these issues in the future’ says Leo.  

From a customer’s perspective, these problems are all behind the scenes. Yet put digital connectivity in and they can positively affect the customer experience.

For example, being able to: instantly be told their room is available; upload a picture to social media; download the latest shows from Netflix; or order at the bar online. Customers expect the best service and connectivity can help. ‘The AA have identified in order of importance for customers, connections is number two after cleanliness – mobile and/or broadband’ says Leo, so when it is not available they find it frustrating and confusing. Some guests have even left when they discover there is none available.

A consistent, fast connection offers growth. It gives the business the ability to communicate with a wider audience – further than just a web or social media presence. To be competitive you have to offer more. ‘70% of our business is national’ Leo says. ‘Having reliable, ultra-fast broadband would allow us to do things like virtual personalised show arounds’ as 5G reduces buffering times offering a better experience to the end user. Being able to offer these type of activities is integral especially under the current restrictions. ‘From a customer perspective it would be brilliant and put us into a different league allowing us to embrace new and modern technological capability’s’. Allowing the business to grow, supporting the sustainability of the area.

Another area The Saddle Rooms has the potential to develop is its conference business. ‘The days of going abroad on a private jet are gone’ believes Leo, ‘but businesses need to be able to bring people together and build the team’. Yet, without a mobile signal or a reliable and robust broadband network, business will not come. ‘CEOs will want to ‘Zoom’ in and people will still want to have communication – either a signal to take calls – more likely via facetime or something similar now and/or to be able to get their emails’ says Leo. 5G would offer these fast download speeds meaning a seamless offering ensuring rural areas are able to provide urban facilities in beautiful surroundings.

Digital connectivity is key to this development and future proofing the business. 5G can successfully provide this to rural businesses such as The Saddle Room by using the same frequencies available throughout the UK but combining it with newly available technology. ‘Being part of the MANY project means we get the benefits of mobile communications for us to move the business forward but, also, to keep our staff and customers safe and happy’ 

But it’s not just about this one business. Getting people to The Saddle Rooms and The Tupgill Estate – be that as a visitor for work or pleasure or to live and work – gives back to the local economy. ‘We want to bring people here and keep people in the area’ Leo says. ‘If we can do that we cause a ripple effect for the network of rural businesses.’

Connect one rural business via 5G can connect many. Driving the local economy, allowing it to compete with its urban neighbours.