‘Life in Herm? It’s like winning the lottery’
AS HOSPITALITY director for Herm Island, Craig Senior knows he has an enviable job.
‘I’ve worked in hospitality for around 35 years, handling everything from hotels to golf clubs. The last six years I’d been managing food and beverages across the UK for a social enterprise. That was coming to an end and I wanted to spend more time with my family.
‘I saw the job for Herm Island on Linkedin. I’d never heard of it before – 280 people applied for the job and this was whittled down to half a dozen.’
After the initial interviews were conducted at the Grosvenor Hotel in London, there followed an intensive three-day interview process in Herm.
And how did he feel when he was told that he had the job?
‘It was like winning the lottery,’ he admitted. ‘It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to manage an island.’
Craig and his partner, Emma Ellis, and their two children Megan, 6, and Grace, 4, arrived at their new home in December last year. The family were impressed immediately by the island’s strong sense of community. One of their first experiences of it sounded like something that would have happened back when Compton Mackenzie lived there.
‘They formed a chain to help move all of our furniture up from the boat to our home. And within the first couple of days we were cut off because of the bad weather.’
After almost a year as director of hospitality, Craig admits the biggest part part of the job is ‘having a really good boss’.
‘I really like the residents and the community, and I like the owners, John and Julia Singer. The main thing, though, is I have to be mindful what the owners say.’
And this means being innovative without being too radical.
‘I have to keep the balance of history and heritage, which needs to be preserved, and moving things forward. Commercially Herm needs to support itself, which it hasn’t been doing. People don’t realise this. It has to be self-supporting.’
Managing an island has its own unique set of challenges. One of the main problems, Craig believes, is recruiting staff.
‘It’s a real challenge. Not exclusively in Herm, but the hospitality industry in Guernsey, with staffing, is coming towards a crisis. I spoke to a hotel manager I know in Guernsey and he said that he’s had great difficulty in getting kitchen and front-of-house staff.
‘It’s not cheap for people to fly here and there are no States subsidies. If you leave a job for whatever reason you have to reapply for a work permit. What can the Guernsey government do? Subsidise hospitality staff as an incentive to work here. We need help. It could help the tourist trade if we can encourage people to work here.’
A fluctuation in staff levels has been a recurring problem for Craig this year.
‘We started off with 12 chefs and at one stage we were down to three. I had to work in the kitchen myself. We had to fly a chef here from the UK.
‘There were times when the hotel was close to shutting.’
Other more potentially serious issues also occurred.
‘It’s the remoteness, not just of Herm but Guernsey too, which can accentuate mental health issues. And some staff members have had these. You have to use due diligence.’
A recent introduction, linked through Guernsey Mind, is two mental health first-aiders who have been trained to provide initial support for someone in a mental health crisis situation or who is developing a mental health problem.
‘We needed to safeguard our staff. It was a tough one,’ admitted Craig. ‘I don’t know if I handled it well but I always try to remain professional.’
2018 sees Herm Island extending its season.
‘We’ve been open in September and we’ll be open in October for the first time in many years. And we’re also opening for three nights at The White House Hotel over Christmas – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. They’re all filled already.
‘I love the winter here. We came in December last year so we’ve already had a winter. But when the snow is on the ground and the pub’s open, it’s the best time.’
It may only be a mile-and-a-half long and half a mile wide, but when it comes to putting on events Herm punches well above its weight. The island has continued to be a popular destination for a different kind of night out, with hundreds this year heading to the annual Fade2Grey extravaganza in May (at which more Prosecco is sold in a night than during the whole year) and the Real Ale and Cider Festivals in June and September.
‘Also during September we had the Gourmet Weekend and the Wine Tasting Weekend, we’ve had kite-flying on Shell Beach and on 9 October we have our Paws For Thought, the charity dog walking day in aid of the GSPCA, the Guided Walk with accredited guide Lesley Bailey and, at the end of the month, the Family Fun Day.
‘We’ve had a record year for weddings, too.’
Craig said he’s not on Herm to change the fabric of the island. He may have a background in managing golf clubs but he’s not thinking of resurrecting the 1920s golf course on the Common (although he admitted taking out his clubs there for a few practice swings).
‘One thing I did joke about was putting up a Ferris wheel,’ he said laughing. ‘But no, we’re not looking to make any structural changes. But we will be spending £2m. over the next three or five years.’
People might only visit Herm at the end of the year by taking up Travel Trident’s Christmas £1 shopping trips, but the island’s winter projects continue.
‘We have a fantastic managing director of services, Simon George. He’ll be overseeing the £700,000 sewage cleaning, which will take place in January and February next year. That will cause some disruption.
‘We’re installing new toilets in The Ship Inn and we’re having some bathrooms changed in the holiday cottages. We’ll also be extending the bar in The Mermaid, as well as redecorating and installing new plumbing. We spent £70,000 this year on staff accommodation and we’ll probably be spending the same again next year. Also in 2018 we’ve introduced allergy-compliant menus across all food outlets.’
Getting Herm Island on Facebook has been a good move.
‘We have 25,000 likes, which is the biggest in the Bailiwick,’ said Craig. (A quick check on FB sees VisitGuernsey and VisitAlderney have 17,000 likes each and Sark 12,000.)
‘We’ve actually had guests from the UK who said they had first seen Herm on Facebook.’
Despite it being a challenging year, it’s been a record summer and Craig said he’s proud of the support and hard work he’s had from staff.
‘There have been four or five days where I didn’t see Emma and the girls awake. The staff have worked silly hours and I’m proud of the support they’ve given and of the support from the guests. Everybody has contributed. It’s been a challenge, but one I’m proud to have.
‘I wake up and I think how lucky I am to be in Herm – and this sounds cheesy – but it’s a real honour.’