Step inside the Cookie Jar
The Cookie Jar is a five-star boutique hotel situated in Alnwick, Northumberland. It’s the ultimate retreat for alternative accommodation and an unconventional entertainment venue in the North East.
The Cookie Jar was formerly St Mary’s Convent, a beautiful and historic building in Bailiffgate. The building has been transformed into a luxury bespoke hotel with 11 magnificent rooms and suites. The owners ensured the key features of the convent were kept in addition to the contemporary decor, giving it that extraordinary and special touch. It’s an opulent vision of modern hospitality and as a result guests have been delighted with the attention to detail.
The face behind The Cookie Jar is Debbie Cook – an experienced hotelier and wife of Robert, the award-winning UK hotelier. She was determined to provide a first-class experience in keeping with the history and the traditional aspects of the building.
Establishing The Cookie Jar retreat has been no mean feat. There were so many details involved, across so many different aspects. One key process was the conversion of the building itself and its surrounding land.
Hamish Smales, an estate manager at George F. White who worked with Debbie on the project, explains:
“Purchasing the old convent was probably the easiest part. The challenge was creating a luxurious boutique hotel that kept the convent’s beauty in terms of architecture and design but with a modern twist that appealed to guests, all within the client’s budget. Given the idea behind The Cookie Jar, and its impact on tourism in the area, we advised Debbie about the financial support the hotel could potentially receive, if it met specific funding criteria.”
The team looked at and reviewed the range of possible grant opportunities that The Cookie Jar could be applicable too. When advising on the best grant to select, George F. White chose the LEADER programme for the Cookie Jar dream.. The LEADER programme is a European Union funded scheme which provides grants for:
- small and mid-sized rural businesses;
- tourism projects;
- rural enterprises.
“We handled the entire funding application process for Debbie, from beginning to end,” continues Hamish. “This included creating a business plan for Debbie, costings to deliver the project and detailed market research. We had to outline exactly why Debbie and her enterprise should be awarded a grant and provide specific detail on the contribution The Cookie Jar would make to Alnwick and the wider Northumberland region.
For example, we explained that workers involved in constructing the hotel would be hired from the local area which included local builders and merchants. Hospitality staff would also be hired locally by the hotel in the form of permanent contracts, and local suppliers would also be involved – for example, The Cookie Jar only provide locally sourced food from local food producers that is created and prepared by renowned local chef and Mine Host of The Cookie Jar, Mick Holland – on a long-term basis.”
The application for the LEADER programme involves two key stages.
- An outline application to Northumberland County Council;
- A Local Action Group who decides whether funding should be granted based on a number of different criteria.
LEADER is a highly competitive scheme meaning the application submission was absolutely fundamental to securing the funding.
“We were delighted when The Cookie Jar was awarded nearly £70,000 worth of grant support,” explains Hamish. “This funding has been so important in helping Debbie achieve her vision of providing a luxurious, cosy, and comfortable retreat in the heart of Northumberland. It was a very tough application process, and bigger projects, focused on rural tourism and business, were rejected, so it was very pleasing to tell Debbie that we’d been successful in rewarding her with the cash injection for The Cookie Jar project.”
The Right Support and Skill Set
“We were told to speak to George F. White by a friend and I am so pleased we did!” adds Debbie. “They worked so closely with us and excellently prepared the funding application. As a result, we received almost £70,000, I was absolutely over the moon!”
“By winning the grant support, we were able to design and build a higher specification of the hotel than what was initially decided. It really helped us to achieve than five-star rating, that is in such high demand in the hospitality sector. I really appreciate the amount of contact and time Hamish spent with the team in making this dream a reality. George F. White, I cannot thank you enough!”
The grant process not only provided a substantial of funding but, by applying in such detail for financial support, we were able to create a comprehensive business model for Debbie that can be replicated across the region and nationally too.
“As a result, Debbie now has a sound business model that she can roll out across other locations and regions if she does wish to expand her rural tourism offering”, continues Hamish. “We’re thrilled with the grant amount awarded and we wish Debbie and The Cookie Jar team the best of luck in this brand-new hospitality venture!”
To find out more about The Cookie Jar, visit their website.
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