New Four-Star Hotel in Inverness to Be Run by Area’s Marginalised Youth

Posted: 04 July 2010, in Sector News

By Edd McCracken

Inspired by a Dutch scheme in which ex-convicts, women escaping abusive relationships and single parents run a four-star hotel, Inverness is set to become home to the UK’s first social enterprise hotel.

Planning is still at an early stage for the project, but ambitions are high to create a hotel staffed by some of the area’s most vulnerable young people.

The idea is to provide training for youngsters not in education or employment, without a home, or lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills. They will help run the hotel alongside hospitality experts, gaining experience, training, and eventually a formal qualification.

It is hoped that guests will be unaware of the hotel’s social-enterprise roots.

The aspiration is to open in 2014 and be part of the new Inverness Campus, future home to Inverness College and the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The hotel is modelled on Rotterdam’s highly successful Art & Woonhotel. Run by the Best Western group, the hotel provides employment for some of the most marginalised people in Dutch society. The hotel, which doubles as a contemporary art gallery, also provides temporary, affordable accommodation for the staff. Potential staff are referred to the hotel by social organisations and housing corporations.

The key partners for the Inverness scheme are Albyn Housing Association, which provides affordable housing in the Highlands, and Calman Trust, the area’s leading agency working with hard-to-reach young people.

Former Scottish hotelier of the year Grant Sword will advise on the development and running of the establishment.

Calum Macaulay, chief executive of Albyn, said: “It’s hugely exciting to be involved in this project. There is much work to be done but we are confident of delivering the UK’s first social enterprise hotel. Not only will it provide life-changing opportunities for young people, it will also offer a fantastic quality of service to guests.

“Between Calman, Albyn and Grant Sword we have the required mix of skills and a common goal to build and run a commercial hotel business focused on improving the lives of young people.”

The stakeholders plan to create a hotel with an “iconic design”. It will have 100 rooms, a cafe and restaurant.

Isobel Grigor, chief executive of the Calman Trust, said: “Running a hotel involves almost all the skills required in running a town. This project will see trainees work alongside staff throughout the business, including maintenance, food preparation, front of house and housekeeping.

“We intend to run a high-quality hotel with industry-leading service levels. Yes, that sets challenges for vulnerable young people, but our experience is that youngsters rise to challenges when they are made achievable.”

A business plan is currently being developed, and both public and private-sector funding will be sought.

Talks are under way to be part of the new Inverness Campus, a new knowledge-based hub for the Highlands incorporating the University of the Highlands and Islands, Scottish Agricultural College and Inverness College.

Billed as “one of the most important developments in the area in the next 20 years”, the Inverness Campus is being developed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.