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Grand Design For a Former Grand Hotel

Richard Bowser talks with Devon based developers Robert and Sheila Sawyer

The public perception of Britain’s seaside hotel and leisure sector is gradually being transformed as some outdated stereotypes are swept aside. In many coastal towns a new breed of small- and mid-sized hotel operators have emerged, often combining a high-class food experience with modern hotel facilities and with attention to detail being paramount. Yes of course there are still some hotel operations out there that resemble ‘Fawlty Towers’ but they are gradually fading into history as customer tastes change and expectations of service standards constantly rise.

Early this summer I accepted an invitation to visit Woolacombe in north Devon, a place that I’d not visited in many years, to meet with property developer Robert Sawyer and his wife Sheila at their mixed-use residential and leisure development project.

Woolacombe is situated in a very scenic part of north Devon with a lengthy crescent shaped sandy beach which for decades has been a firm favourite for family holidays. During the peak summer holiday period it attracts thousands of visitors each week but is also a year round destination for retirees and for those of all ages who enjoy fresh air and moderate exercise via scenic coastal walks.

The Byron at Woolacombe project which is complete and now in full operation is the result of many years of planning from the site owners’ Blast Properties and the lead on-site director Robert Sawyer, an experienced property developer.

At the heart of the development are 57 individual apartments with a hotel-style reception area, a large restaurant and bar, an indoor pool and a separate gym with exclusive use for Byron residents.

With an outdoor sea-facing terrace and a total dining area for 200+ diners, the restaurant and bar named Brundles is open for non-residents and operated via a lease agreement by the internationally renowned chef Graham Brundle, who was brought up in the local area.

Robert Sawyer explains the history of the site and it’s evolution since they (Blast Properties) first acquired the site some eleven years ago, back in 2008. “The site was a moribund hotel, riddled with defects that had its glory days back in the 1960’s and 70’s when it was known as the Narracott Grand Hotel. Apart from Minehead with the Butlins site, it was then the biggest venue in the northern part of the South West peninsula and people would congregate to watch whoever they had seen on Top of the Pops at the Narracott.

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