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An Interesting Contrast

Last week, I was organising and hosting a joint industry / academia / government two-day workshop at our Malvern site, for about 35 people from all over the UK. They all needed somewhere to stay overnight, and I needed somewhere suitable to host an evening dinner / networking session. There’s a couple of hotels around here that could potentially meet that requirement, but ideally I wanted somewhere with a bit of a “wow factor”, yet not too expensive for those delegates who were on tight expense budgets. I asked my director’s PA what she suggested, as she often has to organise groups of visitors, and she recommended Stanbrook Abbey, about a fifteen minute drive from Malvern.

Until a few years ago, this was a convent, with a small but active community of Benedictine nuns. However, the heating bills and overall maintenance costs got too much for them, and they have relocated to a purpose-built eco-friendly nunnery in North Yorkshire, also called Stanbrook Abbey. The nuns sold the original building to an events company, who have clearly invested millions of pounds in turning it into a hotel and wedding venue. The new owners are still trying to drum up business and compete with longer-established hotels in the Malvern area, so they were willing to come to a very good deal for bed, breakfast and a Workshop Dinner to fill up their rooms in an otherwise quiet week. 

The hotel is a very odd contrast between old and new. The original building is Puginesque, Victorian High Gothic, all pointed arches, mullioned windows and dark wood panelling. There are still the original cloisters, which are atmospherically candle-lit in the evenings. The chapel is available for use as a meeting room, and I’m pretty sure that my group dined in the nuns’ old refectory. Wherever you look, there are reminders of the building’s original function – a huge crucifix and Stations of the Cross in the cloisters, devotional statues on the staircase, paintings of saints and martyrs on the walls. My co-organiser of the conference, a practising Catholic, said he found it really disorientating, and kept having to stop himself from automatically genuflecting as he rounded a corner! Then there are the new additions which in my opinion jarred massively (and almost certainly deliberately) with the original architecture. There is a very modern, almost brutalist, extension on the front forming an atrium and bar, leading to the Reception. There was pink and purple neon lighting up the main staircase, and our otherwise Victorian function room had a disco ball suspended from the ceiling!

Overall, it was a very interesting and somewhat disconcerting experience! The bedrooms were quite large and very comfortably furnished, with very luxurious bathrooms. The dinner was entirely acceptable (smoked salmon starter, then chicken, followed by sticky toffee pudding) and was served efficiently by waitresses who were clearly used to feeding large groups of people. Breakfast the next morning was pretty much what you would expect from a hotel buffet, but was served in another huge and historic room. I wish I’d had more time free to wander round and explore the hotel building further, as it was absolutely fascinating. It’s certainly one of the more interesting hotels that I’ve stayed in.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. pauld | 22 April 2016 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Christian church couldnt afford the heating bills ?, Oh, what a shame :). Good for everyone else though as they can now use the old building