garden lodge (6/6)

The series that transforms failing hotels concludes. Alex Polizzi, whose family owns the renowned Rocco Forte group of hotels, is on a mission to change the fortunes of some of Britain’s most calamitous establishments. This week, Alex takes on one of her toughest cases yet as she attempts to convince a reluctant owner to clear out her hopelessly cluttered guesthouse in the South East.

Award-winning hotelier Alex Polizzi is on a quest to salvage some of Britain’s worst-run hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments. As the granddaughter of Lord Forte and the niece of Sir Rocco Forte, Alex has all the industry experience and authority needed to turn flagging hotels into profitable ventures. She trained at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, worked for Marco Pierre White at the Criterion, and has done stints at Rocco Forte hotels in Cardiff, Rome and St Petersburg, as well as setting up her mother’s successful hotel, Tresanton, in Cornwall. She is now the proprietor of the prestigious Hotel Endsleigh in Devon.

This week, Alex visits a nine-bedroom guesthouse in Folkestone. Garden Lodge is only two miles from the Channel Tunnel and should be getting a healthy passing trade. But business is in decline and owners Sue and Ron Cooper desperately need help.

From the outside, the hotel seems perfectly acceptable. It is only when Alex steps inside that she gets a sense of the problem – overwhelming clutter. The dining room and living room are stuffed with personal items and so-called ‘collectables’, including stamps, figurines, commemorative plates and toby jugs. “You don’t really know where to look first, do you?” admits Sue.

The over-cluttered public areas soon become the primary battleground between Alex and the fiercely protective Sue. Alex describes her collections as “loony” and tries to make Sue see that the effect is overpowering. “It makes me feel slightly sick – there’s just so much stuff,” she says.

The clutter soon reveals a sad personal story. Sue lost her brother in the Bali bombings and much of the clutter is a tribute to him. Whilst taking care with this delicate issue, Alex wants to convince Sue that the only way to save the business is to declutter, depersonalise and clean the guesthouse from top to bottom.

Unfortunately, Sue disagrees, claiming that the guests enjoy the hotel’s personal charm. “People normally say, ‘Oh I love all this stuff, it’s so much to look at and it’s just so homely,’” she insists. “They love it.” On her second visit, Alex finds Sue has resisted all efforts to depersonalise the living room and instead wants to build a conservatory at the back of the dining room to house even more junk. Alex decides to gather evidence from guests to persuade Sue that she is wrong in her beliefs. She films a secret survey and plays Sue the results, but the stubborn owner accuses Alex of telling the respondents what to say.

Ahead of her third visit, Alex sends Sue the somewhat cheeky present of an empty skip, hinting that she might like to have a big clear-out. However, an offended Sue declares she has nothing that needs throwing away and tells the driver to take the skip back. Matters are not improved when Sue accuses Alex of having been born with a silver spoon in her mouth. “She’s got to prove to me what she wants to do is going to work,” Sue says. “Because I still don’t think Alex understands what a family-run guesthouse is.”

Eventually, Alex persuades Sue to allow a trial makeover of her dining room, albeit with a Balinese theme. Local businesses are invited for a re-launch party and the new look proves a success. But how long will Sue leave it that way after Alex has left?

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  • Anonymous

    Re Garden Lodge. What a vile miserable bully of a woman. Poor Alex- I would have thrown my hands in the air and walked out.
    Who the hell would want to stay there?!!. Never mind the hideous decor, it’s the owner that would put me off

  • Anonymous

    I ultimately feel sorry for the husband, who appears to be in poor health.
    The place is dirty and the woman’s attitude leaves much to be desired.
    I wouldn’t advise anyone to stay there.
    This woman does not deserve to succeed. Her attitude stinks.
    I take my hat off to you Alex. How on earth did you put up with her?

  • BB John

    The owners lack any customer focus or business acumen. To suggest that focus group members and disgruntled customers lack taste when they deride the dirt and dust infested clutter demonstrates a loss of reality. Clearly Sue Cooper wanted a free makeover but cannot see that this will not help with her several disorders or rebuilding her business.

  • Anonymous

    Garden Lodge,
    It always beggar’s belief that these so called hotelier’s ask for help! then when anyone arrives to help they take none of the advice given! like someone else said its chance of a free paint job! wild horses wouldn’t drag me to stay there anyway! awful!!

  • Anonymous

    I watched this episode last night. I was shocked at how dillusional the owners were. The husband obviously henpecked by a wife intent on doing things ‘her way’ even after being given advice from a leading british hotelier! I thought these people were asking for help to improve their business. I hope their business goes down the toilet after the rude way they behaved to poor Alex Polizzi!
    I would rather eat my own fist than go and stay in her hideous, cramped, dirty and cluttered hell hole of a guest house.

  • Anonymous

    By far the most entertaining episode in the serie, I could not believe how awful, horrible this poor woman came accross and did not seem to realise that she would actually be watched afterwards on tv. !
    My heart goes out to all the people trapped in staying there ! How could they ? It just reminds one of how crucially essential are websites such as Tripadvisor, that this woman tried to deride as the moanings of people’disatisfied with everything anyway ‘!!!
    Well I certainly always make sure I read what previous travellers have said about a place before I book it.
    Never again should anyone have to stay at places like ‘the garden Lodge’, more like Hell-Lodge, if you read all the comments on various travelwebsites…
    Yes I also hope this program was the nail in the coffin for Sue Cooper’s B&B, she is so obviously in the wrong business. and PLEASE Mr Cooper do yourself a favour before it’s too late, get your life back, Divorce !!!

  • Anonymous

    Just seen the programme on Aussie TV, also read trip advisor comments, I don’t think I will be staying at Garden Lodge when next in UK, the owners, the place all seem a joke.

  • Bogbrush

    This place is vile. Watched a repeat of it today and read the latest Trip Advisor reviews which have got worse not better. The witch who owns the place has now had a stroke and no doubt tries to get sympathy that way though it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person. Some people really ought to recognise when euthanasia is a good idea.

  • gedtmhar

    Charles Forte was a great man with vision. He built and empire (over 800 hotels worldwide, if I am not mistaken). The “Group” was sold for £350 million (cash) and despite large cash amount available even Alex Polizzi was not able to do much with it. She may know one thing or two about hotels (most being just common sense) but probably only able to run something like The Hotel Inspector.
    So – as far as the Garden Lodge goes – one blind leading another.
    Alex is not sophisticated when talking to “owners/directors”. She forgets that they are just like her but without a rich background. Easy to make comments when you are just a spoilt brat.
    I saw the program with Sue. At one point, Sue was almost convinced in making changes, I feel her pride took over emotions.
    Do clients (or friends) listen? No, they don’t. Even close friends get offended with advice or suggestions. Here, Sue is proud of what she has achieved with her family, she is just not prepared to step back and look with unbiased eyes. Does she want to run a profitable business? Probably not. She may be just happy as the business (if any) is going.
    Insulting her like Bogbrush has done is low grade and just very ignorant.
    There are loads of hotels in the area from £29 up to £85 per room. Internet can provide a lot of information and there is no one (that I am aware of) pointing a gun to people’s head suggesting that they must stay at the Garden Lodge.
    Negative write ups like on this forum are not necessary. If Sue (vile or not woman) wants to run a business, is up to her to decide if she wants to make the changes necessary to make the business a success or not.
    Bottom line – stupid tv programs for stupid television viewers.

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