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East Midlands Chamber News

Hotelier extraordinaire scoops Business Woman of the Year


An hotelier extraordinaire has been named Business Woman of the Year at this year’s Enterprising Women awards.


Emma Brealey, on the left on the picture, brought the Petwood Hotel, at Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, back from the brink of bankruptcy to create a successful modern business.


When Emma joined the hotel as a director in April 2010 it was failing to make a profit on £2.5m sales and its wage bill consumed 49% of turnover when the ‘recommended level’ was 32%.


The business was also not exploiting its military heritage but today is proud to boast that it was requisitioned by the RAF in 1942 as an officers’ mess and was home to 617 Squadron – better known as the Dambusters – and others.


“Guests enthuse about the historic atmosphere and ‘walking in the footsteps of heroes’,” Emma said in her awards submission.


Built as a private home for a wealthy Edwardian baroness, the Petwood was converted to an hotel in 1933. It is a Grade II listed building, now a 3*, independently-owned hotel that was rescued from group proprietorship by the current family owners in 1996.


It offers 53 bedrooms, AA Rosette dining, five function rooms and 30 acres of beautiful grounds, catering for leisure breaks, golf breaks, weddings, conferences, parties and the casual food and beverage trades.


Business predominantly comes from domestic tourism, but favourable exchange rates for international guests has led to recent growth from the American, Canadian and Australian markets.


As a first step on the road to recovery, Emma engaged the management team in specialist hospitality finance training. Eight years’ on and all members of the management team are involved in the budget process and have their own lines of responsibility.


The wage bill is down to 32.6% of sales and the historic gardens, once a run-down and neglected cost to the business, have been restored to their Edwardian splendour and are now a revenue-generating tourist attraction.


Emma’s submission said: “From the outset I have worked closely with local stakeholders, business groups and local committees, gaining an understanding of the Petwood’s role within the wider community as an employer, tourism partner, accommodation provider and champion of Lincolnshire tourism generally.


“I chair the Visit Lincoln Partnership meetings, which engage Lincoln-based tourism businesses in the activity of the city’s Destination Management Organisation. I serve as Chair of Trustees for Jubilee Park, the community-run park and swimming pool in Woodhall Spa. I have also been on the Woodhall Spa 1940s Festival committee since the event’s inception seven years ago, now as a headline sponsor of the event that attracts 40,000 visitors to the village over one weekend in July.


“My involvement with these community and county groups has fostered good relationships with local organisations and residents, helping me understand how the Petwood can support the community and provide what the local market wants.”


Commenting on her win on Friday, Emma said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be awarded Business Woman of the Year. It’s a reflection of the fabulous Petwood team who have supported me on this journey to help grow our family business.”


The East Midlands Chamber*-supported Enterprising Women awards were presented at a gala dinner at Derbyshire County Cricket Club, Derby. The evening was hosted by Sameena Ali-Khan, experienced and award-winning TV and events presenter and ITV newsreader in the Midlands.


Other winners were:
Social Commitment Award - Zinthiya Trust, Leicester
Female Apprentice of the Year - Kirsty White of Penny Price Aromatherapy, of Hinckley
Female Employee of the Year - Tracey Hallam of Hope Against Cancer, Leicester
Female Entrepreneur of the Year - Cassandra Davison of Lightning Route and Queen Victoria Arts Club, both in Leicester
Team of the Year - Primary Live, of Market Harborough
Small Business of the Year - The Adventure Service, of Mansfield Woodhouse.


The winners were chosen from a shortlist of 35 finalists.


Co-Chair or Enterprising Women, Eileen Richards, founder of ER Recruitment, Leicester, and a member of the Board of Directors at the East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire), which won the British Chambers of Commerce Chamber of the Year Award in November 2018, said: “The standard of entries was, again, very high this year and proves there is a real hunger among women in the business community to be recognised for their achievements.


“These awards are one of the best ways to achieve that recognition. In the past we have had some very worthy winners and I’m delighted that Emma is now among them, although every entry deserves to be celebrated.”


Co-Chair Jean Mountain, a Past President at the Chamber, said: “By highlighting their contribution and telling their stories, hopefully we can inspire other women to pursue their business dream.”


The headline sponsor of the awards is Pick Everard. Duncan Green, Managing Partner, said: “Pick Everard is delighted to be the headline sponsor again of the Enterprising Women Awards, which is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the success of women across the East Midlands.


“We are bucking the national trend with over 27% of our workforce being women, compared to just 11% in the property, construction and infrastructure sector.


“Like a number of industries, ours is already held back by a skills shortage and would benefit substantially from more females developing a career in the sector. We’re proactively working to reddress the balance, from providing STEM ambassadors at schools to promoting nationally the role of women in engineering and construction.”


Sponsors for this year’s awards included Pick Everard, Hastings Direct, Derby College, Smallman and Sons, Leicester Racecourse, Leicester Tigers and The Belmont Hotel.