Students swapped the college’s classrooms and kitchens for Thoresby Hall Hotel and Spa, near Ollerton, during a one-week ‘hotel takeover’.
Undertaking a variety of hospitality-based roles, students gained valuable, practical experience of working within a large, fully-operational hotel to complement their college-based training.
The learners, who are on a range of courses such as the advanced diploma in professional cookery, the advanced diploma in hospitality supervision and leadership, and the intermediate diploma in food and beverage service, took up positions as chefs, front-of-house team, housekeepers and grounds maintenance operatives to provide them with additional skills in the industry, as well as inspiration for their future career choices.
They shadowed team-leaders in each of the departments at the four-star hotel, which has 221 bedrooms and suites, two restaurants and two bars, combining historic detail and contemporary character with views across 30 acres of classic parkland.
Annabelle Pye, 19, who is studying the advanced diploma in hospitality supervision and leadership, spent her week waiting on tables in the hotel’s restaurants.
She said: “I really enjoyed serving food to guests, making sure they were happy and finding out what they were enjoying at the hotel. I was mainly based in The Sherwood restaurant but worked in other areas as and when needed, which was a good experience.
“I have a cochlear implant for my hearing impairment and learnt a lot more new sounds in the hotel environment.
“I’ve become more confident skills-wise and learnt to lead a team. I ensured that the team set up for more than 300 guests in just two hours, which was great.
“It’s a really nice, happy atmosphere at the hotel and you really get to know the guests during their stay.”
Advanced diploma in professional cookery student Phoebe Sandford, 18, said: “It’s been amazing.
“All the Thoresby Hall team are so lovely and make you feel very comfortable and they involve you in everything. They showed me how to do each task before I had a go, so I gradually built up my skills and confidence.
“I made a number of desserts such as queen of puddings and trifles, so I worked really hard and have improved my piping skills.
“I wasn’t very confident at the beginning of the week, but now I can definitely say I can do a great piece of work.
“If there were any vacancies in the hotel’s kitchens I would definitely be tempted to apply for one.”
Advanced diploma in hospitality supervision and leadership student Kieran Peet spent his week serving guests in the hotel’s bar areas.
“I’ve really grown in confidence during my time at the hotel, doing new tasks such as changing beer barrels,” said the 20-year-old.
“It’s much faster-paced at the hotel compared with the college because of the sheer volume of guests, but it’s been great to experience this side of the hospitality industry.
“My dream job would be to open my own cocktail bar at some point.”
Kelly Nyland, 20, who also studies the advanced diploma in hospitality supervision and leadership, worked on the hotel reception desk and in the holiday sales shop.
She said: “It’s been very different from what I normally do at the college. Being on reception you are the first point of call for the guests and it’s important to make a positive first impression.
“You really get to know them by the end of the week.
“I loved meeting the guests. They were all enjoying their time on holiday and seemed so happy, so it was a pleasure to help them.”
Seven Mitchell, an intermediate diploma in food and beverage service student, insisted she had gained new skills by assisting guests both on reception and in the holiday sales shop.
“I learnt more customer service skills and I’ve improved my vocabulary. I feel this experience is really going to help me in the future when I’m serving people,” said the 17-year-old.
“I could see myself working at a hotel like this after I’ve achieved my qualifications. Everyone is so pleasant and helpful, and it’s a great place to progress your skills.”
In addition to making sure guests were looked after inside the hotel, some students had the chance to ensure its grounds were perfectly cultivated.
One of them, Aeron Buxton, enjoyed it so much he has completely changed his career choice.
The 18-year-old usually works in the college’s fine-dining restaurant, Refined, honing the skills he is learning on the intermediate diploma in food and beverage service.
Now, he is hoping to secure a job in Thoresby Hall Hotel’s grounds maintenance team after his studies.
Aeron said: “When I heard about the opportunity to work outdoors I had a feeling I’d really enjoy it.
“I got on well with the team straight away and they taught me all the different tasks such as weeding and hoeing the grounds, collecting all the dried leaves and pruning shrubs to ensure I got the most out of the week.
“I’ve learnt new skills and I think I have the right characteristics for a job like this – I just get my head down and work hard.
“Everyone has made me feel part of the family and I would love a job working in the hotel grounds.”
The college prides itself on its links with employers, which it says is a vital component in ensuring businesses can recruit the highly-skilled workers they need while enabling young people to gain sustainable careers in their chosen industry.
Thoresby Hall Hotel’s general manager, Claire Fletcher, said: “We were keen to partner with West Nottinghamshire College as we wanted to give students an opportunity to gain experience of working in a real-life environment, amongst a warm and supportive team, so that they can really understand what it feels like to work in the hospitality industry."
The ‘hotel takeover’, from 28 March to 1 April, came just days after the second anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown in England, when students had to learn remotely, away from their usual classroom, workshop and kitchen settings.
Although tutors were able to physically deliver menu ingredients to students’ homes so learners could create dishes during online lessons throughout the various lockdowns, they were unable to experience customer-facing training in realistic settings.
Since returning to on-campus learning, students are once again enjoying the opportunity to serve and cook for paying customers in Refined, the college’s fine-dining restaurant based at its Derby Road site, in Mansfield.
College hospitality leaders insist that working at venues such as Thoresby Hall Hotel and Spa gives them an opportunity to apply their skills on a much larger scale and immerse themselves in a broader range of areas within the industry.
The college’s head of hospitality and catering Helen Wilcockson said: “Hotel takeover was designed to encourage more young people to aspire to work in the hospitality industry, and we’ve certainly achieved this with our students.
“I was incredibly proud to see them fully-embrace the complexities of hotel life and build on the skills, knowledge and behaviours they are learning at college within a fast-moving environment on a scale most of them have never experienced before.
“They developed their skills in virtually every aspect of the sector such as customer service, time-management and team-work, while further honing their abilities in catering and front-of-house roles.
“A number of students have said they would like to apply for positions at Thoresby Hall and I know they would confidently step up to the challenge of working at such a prestigious venue.”
Hotel guests recognised the students’ endeavours throughout the week, giving praise to those who showed exceptional service.
Diane Marchant, from Derby, said: “I found the students to be extremely pleasant. The service has always been with a smile – nothing was too much trouble for them. Everyone has made us feel very welcome.
“The students need opportunities like this because a lot of them will get a rewarding future from it.”
Rosemary Hawley, from Harrogate, said: “All the young people have been charming, engaging, interested and worked extremely hard. Well done Thoresby Hall for offering this opportunity.
“There is a lot of future talent on show. I hope it’s the first of many such programmes. I’m looking forward to returning to Thoresby and I hope that the work experience goes from strength to strength.”
Claire Fletcher added: “Investing in the students is an investment in the future of hospitality, and we hope the students will want to start their career journey with us here at Thoresby Hall Hotel.
“We were blown away by the engagement of the students and how much they wanted to take away from the week of work experience.
“West Nottinghamshire College should be so proud of the talent they are nurturing, and we are excited to continue this relationship in the future.”
Throughout the week, creative digital media students from the college filmed the ‘hotel takeover’ activities as they unfolded.
This film will be edited and used as promotional footage for the college to showcase to prospective new students, explaining what they can experience on a hospitality and catering course.