Hall of Plenty

Ragdale Hall has long been a favourite destination of Candis readers in need of some pampering, so we thought we’d find out what goes on behind the scenes to make everyone’s stay such a magical experience.

Built in 1785 as a hunting lodge by the 6th Earl Ferrers, Ragdale Hall nestles in the rolling Leicestershire countryside with panoramic views. It remained a private home until the early 1960s, when it enjoyed a spell as a country club with a sideline in illegal gambling, entertaining the likes of the Krays. After a few years as a conference hotel, it was bought by Audrey Eyton, the founder of Slimming Magazine, who turned it into a health hydro. Fast forward four decades of investment, new owners and constant innovation and Ragdale Hall Spa now welcomes 62,000 guests through its doors each year. Yet outside of the calm corridors and serene treatment rooms there is a veritable army of more than 460 staff working to ensure the five pools, bedrooms, kitchens and relaxation areas are clean, luxurious and well stocked.

Here’s how every employee goes out of their way to ensure every person’s stay is perfect…


Whenever she’s back from university, Danielle Wrigley works as a spa assistant and her days start at 7am. She helps to clean the changing rooms and refills all the dispensers as well as replenishing all the towel stores – and that’s before it gets busy at around 9am. “Most of my day is spent handing locker keys out and just generally helping guests enjoy their time here. It’s such a lovely place to work.”


Chances are you’ll see one of these cheerful chaps on arrival at Ragdale. Porters (from left) Andy Edwards, Neil Corcoran and Callum Shuttlewood are the ‘new boys’. As most staff have worked here for many years, their two years, 17 months and seven months of service respectively are but a drop in the ocean in comparison! “We are often the first people guests see and like to make them feel welcome,” says Andy. “We might valet-park or collect about 40 cars each a day, store or find luggage – and always with a smile,” he adds.


Head gardener Andrew Nicolson has been overseeing the grounds for more than 28 years. “It is quite labour- intensive, with not just the lawns to cut but landscaping, maintaining the courtyards, car parks, ponds and so on.” He’s helped by Joe Walker-Smith (left) and Stephan Fenwick, who recently completed his apprenticeship here.


Amarjit Grewal and Sharon Buckingham have been friends for more than 30 years and became sisters-in-law after Sharon married Amarjit’s brother. “We’ve been coming to Ragdale every year for 19 years,” explains Amarjit. “This year it’s my 60th birthday so we’ve booked for a week. It’s such an amazing place and we’ve watched the staff grow up and get promoted and seen all the changes over the years – we almost feel like family!”


It’s not just the plants outside that need looking after. Once a week, Stephan and Joe tend to greenery in the thermal spa. “We’ll be repotting and replacing a lot of these over the next few weeks,” explains Stephan, who reveals his nan Carol Bowes (right) also works at Ragdale.


Debbie Johnson is one of eight van drivers who provide free transport for staff from the local area to and from work. “My first run starts about 5am to bring the breakfast kitchen staff and housekeeping staff to work, then the bus runs every hour, getting busy with beauty therapists around 10am, dining staff at 11am and so on through the day as shifts change. We’ll also start taking home around midday too,” explains Debbie, who started the job ten months ago. “It’s a great way to get to know colleagues.”


Alison Stone started out as a therapist 22 years ago, temporarily moving to Guest Liaison ten years later to cover a colleague’s maternity leave. Now the duty manager, she is responsible for the day-to-day management of the whole Hall. “The variation in my job is what makes it so appealing,” explains Alison, who is welcoming Jean and Bob Wright from Northampton to their experience day. “We won this in a local magazine competition and still can’t believe we’re here,” says Jean.


Ragdale has two purpose-built laundries on-site to clean the 500 towels a day, the 1,400 dressing gowns a week and the 43,000 bed linens pressed every year, among many other items. With 43 years under her belt, laundry attendant Carol Bowes is one of Ragdale’s longest-serving staff members. “I started out as a chambermaid working weekends and then added in some evening cleaning.
After my husband died, I needed to work more hours and eventually moved into the laundry. I used to love the smell of the fresh laundry but working here so long I hardly notice it now, which is a shame!”


The two enormous 57kg washing machines and six large industrial-sized machines are constantly in use. Each machine does 12 loads a day but on the busiest changeover days – every Sunday and Thursday – they’ll operate around the clock. The No 8 ‘bomber wash’ is used to blast hard-to-shift stains. It’s so powerful, though, that items need to be washed on another setting afterwards in order to prevent any sensitivity and allow them to regain their softness.


Behind a pair of discreet soundproof doors in the main pool area lies the pump room. Inside it’s loud and hot and it houses the huge pool filtration system, the many boilers and the pumps that power the water jets. Alan Carter is the building services supervisor responsible for maintaining this beating heart of the spa so it can ensure the pristine quality of the water 24/7. “Although the chlorine is controlled digitally, we always manually test the levels three times a day for each pool just to make sure it’s at the correct levels. The huge sand filters will filter all the water in the whole thermal spa area once every four hours, and the rooftop pool, with its 300m3 water, is filtered once an hour,” he explains.


The unsung heroes of any stay at the spa are the 22-strong treatment coordination team. They book in everyone’s treatments and dining times in the most efficient way. Sarah Hurst is a senior treatment coordinator and her eight years of experience make her perfect for looking after all the Candis Club members at our events twice a year. “It’s like a huge jigsaw puzzle to make sure times work for guests and therapists. We’ll also handle queries, invoicing, quality control, health issues and ensure the admin is carried out,” she says. “We have had a few unusual queries, especially from people wanting to bring dogs. One lady was adamant hers would be happy in her handbag while she had her treatments!”


As a skincare specialist in the Beauty Shop, Jess Holder is the go-to person for advice on skincare products. A typical day could see her restocking shelves, advising guests, training on a new product or running make-up masterclasses. “I love the interaction with guests and although I trained as a therapist, I find working in here suits my personality much more,” says Jess.


An hour before her shift as a waitress in the dining room begins, Lily Burford is working her way through folding 200 dinner napkins. Once she’s done, she’ll set up the bread bar and get the waters ready for the busy evening service. “I love chatting to guests. It’s amazing how quickly you can get to know them after a day or so. And unlike other restaurants, guests are incredibly friendly and never rude!”


Head chef Martin Carter runs a tight ship. His team of 19 work across three shifts each day covering 200 breakfasts, 250 lunches and around 190 dinners a day. “Menus are designed and costed way in advance and are always seasonal. I usually spend one day a week in the office working on admin, cost control and updating menus and the website. There’s also a fair amount of staff training as we’ve a number of new recruits but there’s a great atmosphere and the feedback on the food is always outstanding, which is something we all work hard to maintain,” he says as he works on 50 dessert plates of vanilla panna cotta with chocolate straws and two different fruity coulis.

Photos by Annie Johnston.

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