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House & Home

Property: A comfortable living from bricks, mortar, bacon and eggs

At least that's how the Hoskins found the B&B experience. By Peter Lis
Originally, we said we couldn't take blokes with earrings but, as it turns out, we've had all sorts, from bikers to backpackers." Four years after taking the decision to relocate from Croydon to Buxton in Derbyshire, Alex and Patti Hoskin are living the middle England dream of running their own bed and breakfast house in one of Britain's most picturesque regions.

Both are former teachers: Patti was a lecturer in Human Development for 10 years and Alex retired last July after 20 years in education, the last 11 as a headteacher.

"It's an old cliche: we both wanted an alternative way of earning money so that we could escape the rat race. We were fed up with seeing concrete all the way from Croydon to Enfield, and taking 30 minutes to travel three miles. We chose Buxton primarily because we enjoy walking in the countryside but also with the idea that once the last of the kids had left home we would be able to go into business."

The conversion from family home to business premises eventually cost the best part of pounds 10,000 and three years' disruption to accomplish. In addition, there are substantial on-going maintenance, advertising and insurance costs to be budgeted for along with daily expenditure on food, cleaning and laundry bills.

"The English Tourist Board was immensely helpful. They took us through all the planning regulations and other start-up routines as well as telling us that it takes on average four years to achieve a reasonable turnover."

Undeterred, the Hoskins opened Stoneridge for business on Patti's birthday in May 1995 and, thanks in part to last year's long hot summer, they are set to be in profit after only one year's trading.

But surely it's a daunting prospect, opening your house to complete strangers every evening?

"We've been pleasantly surprised. Having had no previous experience, we set out to create the kind of place that we would want to stay in ourselves - warmth and comfort were our priorities as well as making people feel welcome. Once we got going it came as something of a surprise to discover that we were perceived as being at the upper end of the market."

As any estate agent will tell you, the key factors in selecting a property for the B&B business are location, location and location.

"The sign outside has paid for itself 10 times over," says Patti. "And it helps that we've got the opera house just round the corner. The local tourist information office was the main source for most of our initial bookings. Nowadays, we are starting to get repeat business and word of mouth recommendations by previous customers are beginning to have an impact."

With the benefit of a year's experience and another scorching period in prospect this summer, the idea of making a comfortable living from the unlikely combination of bricks and mortar and bacon and eggs is one to relish.

"Although we are tied to the house for the majority of the day, I don't find it stressful," says Patti. "If anything, a little more mental stimulation wouldn't go amiss."

Alex adds: "At the beginning I found myself walking round the town, looking at the tourists and thinking, `Why aren't you staying with us?' Now we know not to panic when we have a slow week. It all evens out over the year."

For enquiries about setting up a B&B contact your regional tourist board. Patti and Alex Hoskin's B&B is at Stoneridge, Park Road, Buxton, Derbyshire (01298 26120)