We sat down with Beales Hotels Managing Director, Andrew Beale, to hear about his love of Coastal Suffolk, his vision for The Bell, and his idea of what truly makes a luxury hotel experience in the 21st century.
Hi Andrew. Can you tell us a bit about your special connection to this part of Suffolk?
It all started when I was a boy, back in the 70’s. I’d spend the week in a residential summer school in Brandeston Hall, and we’d play summer concerts over in Snape Maltings. I was a cellist, still am in fact. I was fortunate to meet Benjamin Britten when he visited, what an honour that was.
As a family we’ve since visited much of the East Suffolk Coast, from Southwold to Felixstowe, and all the wonderful places between. We’re all keen campers, sailors and paddleboarders, and there’s no better place to do those things in my opinion.
My three great loves are music, boating and mountains, and two of those come from my connection to Suffolk.
Do you have a favourite place?
That’s like asking me who my favourite child is! Although I will admit the fish shacks along the Aldeburgh seafront springs to mind now you ask. And for beaches, it has to be Felixstowe north. Old Felixstowe, with its lovely architecture, and transport links, is a family favourite. Incidentally, it was voted by The Sunday Times as one of the two up and coming towns in Suffolk – alongside Saxmundham.
What drew you to Saxmundham?
I’ve always felt the ‘real Suffolk’ is just a few miles inland, away from the honeypot locations. There’s a brilliant town spirit here, amazing architecture, and great road and rail connections. We call The Bell Hotel the ‘Gateway to the Suffolk Coast’ because those road and rail links really do open up the whole area to people.
Your other property, West Lodge Park, is a magnificent 59 room luxury hotel. How will you bring that sense of luxury to the Bell?
We’re lucky to have 35 acres of glorious grounds, eight banqueting rooms, and a huge restaurant and terrace over in West Lodge Park. And things like the helipad. We’re not going to try and condense that kind of experience into The Bell Hotel of course. We’re looking to create a more boutique luxury experience for our guests here. I think luxury these days is more about creating memorable experiences for guests. And those are exactly what we’ll be providing.
Talking of which, how much input did you have in The Bell’s unique approach to interior planning and design?
I’m a geographer at heart, and I want our guests to have a real sense of the distinctive and special environment that is the Suffolk Coast when they stay here. That’s where the unique room names and themes comes from. Of course, it’s my top local team here who are helping me achieve this vision. People like the photographer Justin Minns, our Leiston based architects, and the interior designers based just down the road here in Saxmundham, to name a few.
On a practical level, my focus was on ensuring we could create easy access for all, alongside putting in place all the modern amenities the 21st century leisure traveller requires from a hotel experience. All while keeping the refurbishment sympathetic.
Will you be planning to replicate the award-winning success of West Lodge Park’s Mary Beale restaurant at The Bell?
Absolutely. I’m passionate about local food, and so is our aptly named new head chef, Garry Cook, who really made a name for himself at the Crown in Snape. Garry is a Suffolk local, and knows everyone from the pig farmers to the local fishermen. He also knows the best places to forage for autumn fungi and spring herbs. Diners can expect an informal menu that offers a true farm to fork experience, which I think represents the true taste of Suffolk. Oh, and we’ll also have afternoon tea with cakes by Ellie Singer, whose stall in Saxmundham Market always has a long queue.
Have you been welcomed by the local community?
The reception from locals to our plans has been heart-warming. That really means a lot to us, because we want to be a proper part of this community. By the nature of the business, hotels serve a national and international clientele, but what’s equally important for us is serving the Saxmundham community. We want to be their local bar, their restaurant and terrace of choice for dining out. The place they put up their visiting friends and family. And the local community has been nothing but welcoming to us since we arrived. And come autumn, they can expect a warm welcome right back when our doors open.