Torquay holiday cottages owner’s life living with the pandemic

Martin Brook of the Pilgrims Rest Cottages in Torquay

Martin Brook of the Pilgrims Rest Cottages in Torquay - Credit: Archant

Holiday cottages owner Martin Brook speaks from the heart when he describes what living with a pandemic is like

Torquay holiday cottages owner Martin Brook

Torquay holiday cottages owner Martin Brook - Credit: Archant

As I look out of the window during this beautiful weather, here at Pilgrims Rest Cottages, all is empty - instead of teaming with guests visiting the glorious English Riviera with its natural inspiring beauty.

No guests since March 15. All bookings cancelled April, May and now, as we speak, all but one in June gone. COVID-19 is an evil killer. A threat to life and business.

I remember when first I set eyes on the Bay. July, 1998 driving to Barton Hall with my gorgeous wife, Kimmy, and our five lovely children, then under seven, with Kimmy saying: 'Come on Brookie, let's move down here!'

I could not find anything that would fit 'my dream' - an olde-worlde property to restore. We sat in the glorious Linny at Coffinswell deciding 'no, the move is not for us' Then by chance I saw a small ad in a national paper - and olde-worlde property for restoration, not in the sticks, but in Barton.

Sneaking down, I saw the property, put in an offer and went home. Seven weeks later we were back, owners of the Old Manor Farmhouse and outbuildings dating pre-1550, graded 2* by English Heritage of national importance and the oldest residency in Torbay.

I had hit the jackpot. Jim Parker – papers do change lives. Ten years in the planning and us hit by a massive fraud leaving just a tenner in the bank, we gained planning permission to restore the three mediaeval barns with our first guests in the Easter of 2009, just after the start of the financial crisis and in a recession!

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We have proudly won many awards, with one of the highest occupancy rates of business in the self-catering market. Thousands of guests have come. Millions has been spent in the bay and it has been profitable, servicing the not inconsiderable £250,000 business loan to get it into being, but also helping raise a family, putting five through university, including one of my sons as a doctor.

Then comes COVID-19. The government introduced measures to limit the number of tragic deaths, push the curve down and limit the number of businesses and jobs lost. A herculean effort from all. I am fearful; fearful for my family, friends and my health.

Life is so much more valuable that money, but I admit to being fearful as a business owner. Our type of business has certainly caught the economic virus badly. We have now called 111 and are on oxygen.