Arriving at Birch, you would be forgiven for thinking you were headed to a service station. Close enough to the M25 that the constant thrum of cars provides a blanket backdrop of noise, the imposing Georgian mansion at the end of a dirt track turn-off comes as a surprise. There are no fruit machines or KFC here.
A longstanding hotel and conference centre near Cheshunt, the imposing 22-hectare, Grade II-listed property has been the subject of a radical makeover by Chris Penn, former managing director of US brand Ace Hotels. The Birch ethos, Penn told me, is to “give a shit”, to be “accessible,” to be “a festival at a hotel” or perhaps not even be a hotel at all. Rather, a space for “escape artists” – those wishing to get away from the relentless pace of London, a 30-minute train ride away to the south.
What do these awkward aphorisms mean outside of investor pitch meetings? At first glance, it means an effective marketing strategy – one that has seen Birch fully booked for every weekend in August and filled with 4x4-driving families, Lululemon-legged groups of friends and young couples theatrically photographing each other in the hotel’s many spaces. These spaces include an impressive Wellness Centre, refurbished from a previous incarnation as a Tesco training centre, a music room complete with karaoke machine, two bars, two restaurants, a bakery and an open-plan social space called The Hub, complete with off-shooting rooms for co-working.
Read the review in the Guardian.
[This piece was published on 18/08/20]