Luxury hotel with a difference: Essex University's Wivenhoe House is staffed by students

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Emily Jupp checks in to find out more.

Ashley Davies, 20, is showing Sasha Monton, 19, how to fold fluffy white towels in the bright, modern bathroom of a hotel room at Wivenhoe House, an 18th-century Essex country-house hotel. He keeps making her giggle. "My students are also my friends," Davies says. "When I show them what to do and a few weeks later they can still remember how to do it properly, it's really rewarding."

Wivenhoe House is a restored Grade II-listed building, set in beautiful parkland in Colchester, Essex. It's like any country-house hotel, apart from a couple of anomalies: the house is situated within the grounds of the University of Essex and the staff consists mainly of keen 19- and 20-year-olds, eager to serve. This is because the four-star hotel is the location of the Edge Hotel School. The first of its kind in the country, the £10m project was set up by the independent education foundation Edge, the University of Essex and its academic partner Kaplan. It enables hotel and culinary management degree students to work and run a functioning, real-life hotel under the watchful gaze of the full-time staff.

Hotel schools are common overseas, but until now, the service industry hasn't been up to par with European standards of training, even though in the UK the hospitality industry is thriving. There is an abundance of jobs, but not enough people to fill them, especially at management levels, so UK businesses tend to recruit from these training schools abroad to fill the higher positions.

"The students tend to be kinesthetic learners," Stephen Mannock, the general manager, says. "In this industry, we don't have a job, we have a working life, so if you have someone that comes in with a purely theoretical basis on that, they won't understand they might sometimes need to pitch in where they're needed." The staff are trying to combat these Upstairs, Downstairs divisions by getting students to try their hand at every job in the hotel from the bottom rung to the very top.

"It's critical to be a pot-washer. Its the most critical job in the kitchen," Paul Boorman, the chef, says. "It makes them a better manager if they understand how that role works. When they get frustrated about not being able to chop carrots properly, it gives them an insight into the pressure people are under and when they become managers they will have an insight into what some of the lower-level staff are going through."

In the kitchen, Boorman shows how to make his unami salmon. We wear chef's whites and thoroughly disinfect our hands, then take chunky fillets and bathe them in Boorman's special unami seaweed and smoked-salt marinade, seal them in airtight bags and plunge them into a 40C bain-marie for 10 minutes. Then they're dunked into ice water to halt the cooking process and served with a licorice paste, pressed cucumber cubes, concentrated salmon cubes, fennel seeds and other complementary flavours.

It's a flavourful work of art, but that's not the real point of this cooking class. At each stage, Boorman highlights the safety regulations and procedures, pointing at the food hygiene regulations stuck to the walls. "We're not going to turn them into Heston Blumenthals, but they will know what precautions to take and what to look out for in the kitchen," he says. His teaching method is far more memorable than reading a manual, and the salmon tastes amazing.

Lionel La Chasseigne, the front-of-house manager at Wivenhoe who used to work at the Savoy, shows me some origami-like napkin-folding, then says: "A napkin on the lap is far more valuable. It gives you a chance, maybe just 20 seconds, to learn something about a customer. You can pick up information and they will be surprised later when you show them you know that it's their birthday, for instance. I used to do magic tricks when I was younger and its very similar. People don't realise how much they give away." Of course, this is not all just to be nice. If you call someone by their name, it raises the chance of them returning by 30 per cent. It's win-win.

Some guests might be put off by the idea the staff are in training, but Mannock rejects that. "Many people currently working in the service industry don't have the passion for it, they are forced into it, or they do it for money while studying for something else. Whereas what we have here is a group of people who really want to do it." The high level of service here isn't accompanied by the stuffiness and formality you often receive; the students retain their personalities and in doing so, put you at ease. Every waiter, housekeeper and bartender is attentive, friendly, well-informed and eager to help.

Ella Martin, 19, is on the first year of her foundation degree and part of the housekeeping team, learning about finance and room service. Each term is devoted to a different team and students cycle between them, she says. This year, Martin will complete levels one to three of the course, making her way through the junior levels of each of the hotel's team. "I didn't think I'd enjoy housekeeping, but it's really interesting. Every day is different," she says. Level four, which she will progress to next year, is devoted to "food and beverages", which includes waitressing, working on reception and taking bookings. At level five, Martin will be able to work as a supervisor and she will start showing the newer students how to do the tasks she is now doing, while reinforcing her own learning. The final level – level six – is management.

If awards are anything to go by, then the "learning-by-doing" approach seems to be working. Since opening in September 2012, the hotel has received four stars from the AA and its fine-dining restaurant has won two AA rosettes. The hospitality industry is watching the project and several manufacturers and suppliers have set up sponsorship agreements with the hotel. Reidel, the wine glass company, supplies all the glassware and Churchill, a British producer of china goods, supplies the hotel's crockery.

"We have the management trainees doing board reports on the new tea stand from Churchill and only once they are happy with the design will Churchill roll it out to the rest of the country. So it's a symbiotic relationship", Boorman says. Laurent Perrier sponsors the wine cellar, which doubles as a tasting room. The champagne producer has also offered a trip to its training and tasting centre in the champagne region of France for the student who shows the most promise.

Different hotel chains and industry suppliers sponsor the rooms – each of which has its own special character. The sponsored rooms are handy for funding, but have an educational purpose too – the hospitality students get to experience the style of different types of hotel under one roof – and tailor their service accordingly. For culinary-management students there is a brasserie and a fine-dining restaurant, so they can learn about formal and informal styles.

But the main objective is to produce students who can equal international standards. "Our job is to make a moment into a memory," La Chasseigne says. He's talking about the guests, but you get the sense that the students won't forget the experience either.

Have a nice stay: hotel courses

As well as Foundation degrees, both BA (Hons) in hotel management and BA (Hons) in culinary management, these subjects are available as

16-month courses.

84 per cent of hotel-management students get a management-level job within six months after graduating.

Students receive five weeks' annual holiday and work at the hotel for five days in every seven. Extra paid shifts are available.

Student accommodation is available on the University of Essex campus and Edge hotel.

Only home and EU students are accepted due to working regulations.

Student loans are available for the courses.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Executive / Marketing Assistant

£18 - 23k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Executive / Assistant is n...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider to the fa...

Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Analyst - Global ERP Implementation - London

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable global business is l...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map