Ragdale Hall is on a Wolds plateau high above the villages of Ragdale and Hoby. The countryside is flat, windswept, remote and really rather beautiful and is immediately recognizable as Leicestershire hunting land. As a location for a health spa it is quite magical. Ragdale Hall was once an Elizabethan hunting lodge, historically associated with hunting with hawks. Although it is an imposing building, it nestles into its surroundings. From it there is an almost 360o view over lush farmland. On a clear day you can see for 30 miles. So as a customer, your arrival is immediately special.
I’ve never before been in a health spa so my expectations came from films: people ambling around in white towelling robes, perhaps with cucumber slices stuck over their eyes. And, of course, that is more or less what it was like (well, not the cucumber). I was shown around by Assistant Personnel Manager, Clair and I found the tour interesting and revealing. What does the paying customer want to do to help them relax/chill out/be pampered/indulge themselves/be treated? It’s a question that I needed to be answered because I would never want any of those things for myself. I need wall to wall activity, stimulation and challenge. I fear idleness, inactivity, time to think.
I could see immediately why customers go back over and over again. Ragdale Hall is an oasis of calm, a place to resettle yourself in a frenetic world- above all a place where you have TIME. Indeed Clair said, “You will never see anywhere else so many people doing so little for so long.”
So my tour gave me glimpses of an astonishing array of pools, a veritable Disney World for adults: a candle pool, outdoor waterfall pool, volcanic salt bath, 25 metre swimming pool, water cascade and an exercise pool to name a few. This explains why Ragdale Hall is termed a spa which must be defined by its water and heat facilities as well as by its therapies and treatments. Although most of the customers who were enjoying their watery leisure were doing so very passively, there seemed no reason why you shouldn’t pound up and down the swimming pool clocking up lengths and I did watch a vigorous aqua-aerobics class in the exercise pool. Indeed, the opportunity to exercise was evident in the list of available activities: croquet, tennis, pitch ‘n’ putt, walking, archery, Nordic walking, boules and cycling are some.
I passed dozens of treatment rooms: places where you could have massages and a range of both traditional and holistic therapies, manicures, pedicures and beauty treatments. Dotted between them were boutiques because if you are going to be pampered then a bit of retail therapy is a must.
As you might expect if you go to relax, Ragdale Hall has some exquisitely comfortable lounges where you can idle away a few hours over a good book or just doze or chat over a cappuccino.
Which leads me neatly into food: well, yes! Here my preconception was totally annihilated. You are definitely not expected to live for days on 2 blades of lettuce and a glass of lemon tea. What you do get is three “proper” meals with the emphasis on eating healthily. A continental breakfast is served to your bed after which you eat a three course lunch and dinner in the restaurant. Lunch is a “sumptuous hot and cold buffet” which you are free to graze: it certainly looked and smelt sumptuous. The dinner is described as a “gastronomic and luxurious delight” with menus that were distinctly mouth- watering…and even included a Ragdale Comfort Pudding. And yes, full wine list with champagne, Pimms and port.
So in all respects, the Ragdale Hall experience is one of self-indulgence, being pampered, opting out of the World for a few hours. Oh, and I forgot: mobile phones are banned outside of guests’ rooms. Blessed relief.
But what of the staff who work there? I interviewed six employees who gave me an invaluable insight and I do thank Clair, Bronte, Glenn, Mary, Margaret and Connor for agreeing to chat with me.
The first thing that struck me even before I met them was how long most of them have worked at Ragdale Hall (8, 11, 20 even 25 years. It must look after its employees very well. The staff confirmed this. Ragdale Hall oozes a sense of ordered calm. That can only be achieved if its workforce feels calm, confident and committed. The strategy seems to have three keys: plenty of staff, total commitment to good training and good opportunities for promotion. At the end of the day, Ragdale Hall is a kind of hotel, in the trade known as a ‘destination spa’ - one review referred to it as the John Lewis of spas, another as the Rolls Royce. Ragdale Hall has approximately twice the average number of staff – 460 who service 182 overnight guests plus a possible 60 day guests. (Not all are full time posts: there are many opportunities for part time working too.)That is a seriously good ratio. Consequently, when a guest wants assistance, there is always someone on hand to oblige.
The other thing that particularly impressed me is the commitment to training and education. I first came across this from Barrow resident Olli (Mr Willie Wonka in BYT’s 2004 production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.) Ollie did’ A’ levels at Rawlins and then went to work for Ragdale Hall who sponsored his course at Loughborough University. Three of the staff I spoke to are working on NVQs: 17 year old Connor in ICT; Bronte who arrived as a bedroom cleaner at 18 after A levels but has studied for an NVQ in Supervisory and Hospitality and is now a Housekeeping Supervisor and Glenn, who came at 17 as a porter, and is now doing an NVQ in catering and works as a trainee Commis Chef eight years later. So my morning gave me a fascinating insight into this enigmatic place that I pass so often on my way to Melton and that is referred to by so many of my friends who are thrilled with the prospect of their own visits as excited customers. I understand better how a business that offers such luxurious escape can thrive so well in times of recession. Thank you.