The new general manager at Matfen Hall Hotel, near Hexham, Northumberland says that keeping lots of balls in the air and good communication are keys to success in hotel management.
But you can’t help thinking that it’s an eye for detail that keeps Bernard Bloodworth at the top of his game.
Striding through the lobby he stoops to pick up a leaf that’s blown in on an autumn breeze. And after coffee in the Conservatory he clears off the table, carrying the empty cups to the bar so the waiter can serve a gathering group of guests.
Small gestures like this make you realise that, yes, Bernard is juggling lots of tasks, but he also has a watchful eye and doesn’t miss a trick.
The 45-year-old GM says he thrives on the challenge of hotel management and the fact that each day is different. He can be involved in menu planning meetings one day, and biomass boiler discussions or third-party rooms management discussions the next.
“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like routine – I’d get bored,” Bernard readily admits. “I really couldn’t see myself doing the same thing day in and day out. That’s why I love this kind of work, being involved in property and all aspects of this hotel.”
Matfen Hall has a reputation for excellent customer service, and Bernard says he wants his staff to come to work with a sense of energy and commitment. “I don’t want staff to come here feeling ground down, so we make sure there is a good atmosphere here for staff, balanced with discipline,” he explains.
“We have clear targets and goals,” adds Bernard, who’s originally from Alnwick. “We’re clear where the lines are, and we show appreciation for good work, and I’m clear with communication.
“I think that communication is a real art, and you have to be able to do it on different levels. I have to be able to talk to people on all different levels, from the kitchen porter right through to managers, and guests,” he says.
In the world of hotel management the more successful managers have done time in different areas of the business, as well as different hotels, so they have a clear understanding of how things work.
Before making a commitment to working in hotels, Bernard wasn’t sure what he wanted to do and as a student took a bar jobs at the White Swan in Alnwick and Linden Hall near Morpeth.
Bernard studied hotel catering and institutional operations in Newcastle and on completion was offered a trainee manager’s role at Linden Hall working through all of the key departments. Having completed this invaluable training Bernard moved to the Lake District where he became the Food & Beverage Manager of Leeming House on Ullswater. Then, and after two years, he secured a post as general manager at Merewood Country House Hotel near Windermere before he turned 25.
Later, he went much further a field, to Australia in fact, working in working a Sydney brassiere where he built upon his knowledge of food and wine. He has also been GM at Close House, Linden Hall, and oversaw the transition when that hotel became part of the Macdonald Group. Most recently he was at Seaham Hall, County Durham, before coming north to Matfen Hall in October.
As with Seaham, his role at Matfen is to drive quality and sales, working with both the management company Prima and the owners, Sir Hugh and Lady Blackett, to ensure growth and success.
“Prima is a collection of hotels owed and managed by industry guru Liam Walsh. Matfen joined the collection two years ago and now have all the benefits from being part of a group,” explains Bernard “The Owners of Matfen Hall, Sir Hugh and Lady Blackett, are still hugely passionate about the property and like keep abreast of everything that’s going on.
“In fact, the carbon neutral boiler recently installed at Matfen was their initiative. Sir Hugh had one installed in his home and then decided to repeat the process on a much larger scale installing one at the Hall generating heating and hot water throughout the hotel and spa. The saving will be significant and in the process they are reducing the carbon footprint of the hotel.”
While Bernard and his staff make the running of the hotel appear seamless, he says work behind the scenes is full of surprises and challenges.
“Not too long ago a lady called and asked ‘Can you confirm you don’t have ghosts? I’m bringing my kids and I don’t want them to be too scared’.” His response was a light-hearted one, assuring the caller that he’d never seen a ghost and he was sure everything would be fine.
Then of course there have been the celebrity guests – most of whom are extremely polite – although others have very exacting specifications and demands.
Married to Kathryn with three young children, Bernard says his favourite hotel (second to Matfen Hall, of course) is the Devonshire Arms near Bolton Abbey. “It’s not the grandest hotel. However, the food and service are exemplary and Kathryn and I spent many weekends there prior to the three additions!”
But when he can’t escape to North Yorkshire, he and his family are more than happy to explore his home county and really enjoy Alnwick Garden, various beaches in Northumberland and Allen Banks. “It’s a beautiful part of the world we have here and we really enjoy living here.”