Jim Parker: Here’s hoping iconic Torbay hotels survive to trade another day

Tor Park Hotel in Torquay

Tor Park Hotel in Torquay - Credit: Archant

My dear old mum spent a lifetime working in hotels mostly during the golden years of Torbay's holiday trade when you couldn't see the sand on beaches for deckchairs, summer season theatre shows played to packed audiences, we braced ourselves for Scottish fortnight and photographers roamed the seafront to take holiday snaps of the so-called grockles (I don't mean that derogatorily by the way) to take home.

Torbay Hotel in Torquay

Torbay Hotel in Torquay - Credit: Archant

I can remember mum working at what was the Belvedere Hotel in Belgrave Road. Newton Road, down into Avenue Road, with Belgrave Road just a stone's throw away, used to be known as the 'Golden Mile' as small hotels and B&Bs lined the streets with not a vacancy sign in sight.

Mum was also housekeeper at some of the bigger hotels in town, notably the Queens which was once an iconic hotel overlooking Torquay harbour.

I can remember some great times with mum and her workmates when I used to meet her for a drink (or two) in the nearby Hole in the Wall and Devon Arms pubs after she clocked off some weekends.

She did a stint in a similar role at the Devonshire Hotel on Daddyhole Plain before moving to the Tor Park (with my sister) in Vansittart Road and then retiring.

Esplanade Hotel in Paignton

Esplanade Hotel in Paignton - Credit: Archant

Sadly, she passed away nine years ago leaving a hole in my heart which will never be filled.

I'm not sure how she would have coped in these torrid times, but she would have found a way after a lifetime which was full of challenges but nevertheless rich and full of happy memories.

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What would have deeply saddened her is the demise of the Tor Park. Along with the landmark Torbay and Esplanade hotels on Torquay and Paignton seafront respectively, it is part of the Bay Hotels/Shearings group which finally fell victim to the pandemic and was forced to close its doors last week.

Around 2.500 jobs – an estimated 150 in the Bay - have been lost with the collapse of the parent company, Specialist Leisure Group, which also included well-known brands like National Holidays and Wallace Arnold.

Well-known Torbay business figure Vince Flower, a former director of Shearing's Leisure Group and former managing director of Bay Hotels, is devastated.

He says: 'I was deeply shocked and distressed to hear the news that the SLG group had gone into administration.

'I had the privilege, honour and pleasure to lead its hotel division for 28 years until I retired in 2018.

'I care very deeply about the business and all the staff there and all I can do now is hope that they are able to regroup and rebuild their lives, quickly finding new jobs after this terribly tragic event.

'Whilst we were a large national business, all parts of the group were like a large family business with many of the staff working for the company for 20-plus years.

'It's a tragic situation and only serves to underline the enormous challenges and impact the current Covid-19 outbreak is having on all businesses.'

He added: 'During my time with the business we would normally attract between 50,000 and 60,000 people each year into the Torbay area on holiday. The business had a great deal of loyal customers who used to return to the hotels every year.

'This collapse will have a significant impact on the local economy and a potential knock-on with other tourist attractions.'

The SLG group operated 44 hotels across the UK. Many of them are landmark buildings like the Torbay Hotel on Torquay seafront, said Vince.

'I am convinced that the properties will survive this tragic event and hopefully will reopen, as soon as they are allowed to do so, under new ownership and will continue the important and valuable work they do.'

Vince remembered my mum, which shows what a brilliant boss he must have been when you consider he was in charge of thousands of people. 'I remember Jean. She was a lovely lady,' he says.

Made my day, Mr Flower – I just hope you are right, and these iconic hotels can live to trade another day.