Sunday, 18 May 2014

An inspirational lifelong hostelling journey

Scottish Independent Hostels exists to help promote the values and uniqueness of a Hostelling stay in an Independently run hostel.  Hostellers also help one another and here is an excellent example from David & Valery Dean of the Lazy Duck Hostel who are always willing to help Scottish Hostellers, and even overseas ones too.  This is even more remarkable when you consider that the Lazy Duck is one of our smallest hostels, but as you will read, has much, much more besides.

David had a request for help from Christian and Jana Berking:

Hello David,
This is Christian Berking from Northern Germany. I am not sure you remember me and my wife Jana joining your beautiful homeland two times in august 2012 on our honeymoon. :-)  We spoke about  many different things, especially to build a cottage in the woods. Now we are on a big journey  with our bikes. Behind the tour is to develop and managing our own home such a little bit like yours. Would you be so kind to give us some details how to manage a project like yours? I know that you build first your own cottage and bought some land. After some time it grows bigger and bigger. That' s all I know at the moment. How did you finance it and was it difficult to prepare yourselves in such a big project? Me and my wife are very interested to live in harmony with nature and have an income, when we are seniors.
We wish you and your wife a wonderful season
Yours sincerely Christian and Jana Berking

And this is the response from David.  Not only will it be very helpful to the Berkings, what a lovely inspirational insight into the lifelong journey of one of our most fascinating members! 

Dear Christian & Jana,
        Goodness me, what a journey you are having.  We wish you every success and fulfilment.  As to what has happened here at the Lazy Duck over 40 years, the glorious and perhaps unconventional thing about it, and us, is that in no sense has it been 'planned'.  There never was a five, ten or twenty years plan other than to feel in our bones that having come here when we were first married we would at some stage want to share this spot with others.

Our thirty years work in education until 1996 saw us living in accommodation attached to our schools first in England, then Wales and then, lastly in Valery's native Scotland about 90 minutes from here by car.  We came when we could to the cottage and then when in 1979 we built our house here we came for holidays with our children.  All the time of course we were both extending our land holding when the opportunity and finance allowed and working on the watercourse, now the ponds, and  planting and landscaping.

  Our professional work elsewhere though meant that what visitors now see as the Lazy Duck did not really accelerate until I 'retired' for the first time.  Valery too was fully involved in our educational work but when we did arrive here for full time living, apart from my continuing consultancy work abroad we were able in 1999 to develop first the conversion of our winter storage Drascombe boat house to make the hostel.  The camping ground followed by accident almost in 2003 when the horse ate all the heather under the 200 year old pine trees. The two eco huts followed in 2011 and 2013 respectively. Each development has more or less funded the next one and what savings we had  have been more sensibly used to top up the cost of these building projects rather than leaving our small amount of money in the bank. 

Essentially though it is we as non professional hospitality givers and accommodation providers which has allowed us to take a very fresh look at what we have hoped to do here.  We are not mightily impressed by the brash tourism machine which surrounds us.  Although, to a certain extent, we have to rub along with it we far prefer to bring to the Lazy Duck our own values of ethical connecting with visitors who arrive to what many of them see as this 'oasis'.

 In determining our response to them as people and in an attempt to exceed their expectations of what they have booked we need to understand the physical and human environment they have come from.  If we can do this then we can more usefully gauge our response to them both on arrival and throughout their stay.  In our publicity we aim to make no claims which could mislead.  Furthermore for instance,, we would rather a camper with children cancel because of bad weather than have a child's first experience of camping turn out to be a bad one. That said, we provide a shelter for campers which in itself can become a welcome and 'fun' refuge for all ages when the rain is throwing it down.  Laudable risk taking by and with children is one thing.  Misery is another.

Hut visitors in particular are often celebrating an anniversary, possibly becoming engaged to be married or just spending special and quite private time together.  Our contact with them following their arrival needs therefore to be thought about carefully.  Each couple is different in their requirements of us and we need to think about each of them and respond accordingly.  We must neither underplay nor overplay our part in their visit.  We must learn to 'read' them as accurately as we can.  In this 'slow' tourism exercise therefore where visitor numbers comparatively are really low we can afford to do that.

 The help we recruit from our local village for preparing accommodations or tradesmen who may meet our guests or international volunteer summer helpers who come to us, usually two at a time for two months between May and October are thoroughly schooled in this thinking.  Hostel visitors, who are our central reason for being here of course, come in all shapes and sizes, some solo and retiring, others in a group and happily gregarious.  We must be prepared well with our response to all and strive to be faithful to the human, empathetic values and culture which have inspired and guided us whatever we have found ourselves doing with our lives.

Finally, for now, it is fine and a privilege to be able to create a place such as this.  As seniors though we find the clock does not stand still and while the creating and maintaining has been much fun and most rewarding we recently have had to make plans for taking life a little more gently.  There were several options but only one good one for us.  It was to recruit joint managers to ' take the strain' and allow us to continue making a contribution appropriate to our age and stage.

 This we have now done and are fortunate in having live next door to us in what was the letting cottage a much younger couple whose extensive professional experience, high personal qualities and refreshingly like minded thinking to our own  are not only helping us maintain what the Lazy Duck can offer but encouraging us to achieve even more for our visitors.  The 'more' is not in terms of plant and facilities for we have probably done enough 'physical' creating on these three hectares/six acres.  Their contribution has been to 'modernise' us somewhat just in the way our own professional children hoped they would and to bring a sense of further youthfulness  into our lives and our work.  We could not have been more fortunate in the appointments we made.  They have been with us since last September only, but everything is looking good.

I hope this is of some help.  Every good wish to you for your own futures.  As members of the Scottish Independent Hostels network   we would be happy to point you towards other equally motivated colleagues who would I feel sure be willing to share their hostel creating/owning/managing experience with you.

All the best,
David Dean


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