Running the first knitting-themed hotel in the UK is a far cry from working on a Roman archaeology excavation – but that’s exactly what Paula Chew did, who runs the family-run Westcliffe Guest House on King Edward Avenue.
Paula bought the hotel in 2004 for her 40th birthday with her husband Simon.
But after a year, business wasn’t exactly booming for the guest house in North Shore.
She said: “It was a real struggle when we first opened our doors – the business just wasn’t working and we weren’t getting the guests we needed to make it viable.
“I had always been a keen knitter, so we tried organising a ‘Knitting Holiday’.”
The idea was an instant success and after trying a couple more, she made the decision to dedicate the business to guests who just wanted to “get away and knit”.
“It was absolutely the best decision to make and it gave us the opportunity to make our business very niche and different to other guest houses in Blackpool,” Paula adds.
It was a masterstroke by Paula, who runs the place with the help of Simon and her youngest daughter Ruth and unlike many other hoteliers and small business owners, the Westcliffe was not as badly affected by the recession in 2008.
She put it down to its “unique selling point”. Bookings for her ‘Knitaways’ are often booked months in advance, including her ‘Christmas Knitaway’ at the end of November.
She said guests bring their own projects along with them and can tap into her experience and the visiting tutors she also brings in. They are also able to use the different equipment she has available at the Westcliffe.
She said: “We have between eight and 10 people on every Knitaway. This gives everyone the opportunity to get the attention and help they might want. To fuel them up, we give the guests a hearty three course English breakfast and a four course evening dinner.”
Paula jokes that her guest house has become quite “well known” by all the local cabbies picking up the knitters from the railway station.
“We have a lot of single people come to stay with us. Perhaps they have been widowed or a carer to a loved one,” Paula explained.
“But they have often come here on their own and have ended up making new friends and stayed in touch with those they met on the ‘Knitaways’.
It can be a great way of bringing people together and is a really nice way for people to bond and make lasting friendships.” She said people come from France, Italy and other parts of Europe.
“We are getting people here, who wouldn’t have thought about coming to Blackpool normally - but because of knitting they have and now love it here,” she adds.
Her current life is another world from her past life as an archaeologist.
“In 1985 I was working as a Finds Illustrator on a Roman excavation project in Castleford, Yorkshire. I stayed in archaeology till 2002 before we moved as a family when Simon got a job in Blackpool.”
Supporting other small businesses and the wider community is something Paula is also very keen to do.
As part of her “Knitaways”, she invites in the owners of Coastal Colours from Fleetwood, who bring an assortment of hand dyed yarns to the hotel for the guests.
They also go to Mrs Johnson’s Emporium, the huge wool and haberdashery business in South Shore, described as an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ for knitters. Like the Westcliffe, the Emporium is also a family-run business which is important to Paula.
And it is because of family, there is one local charity that is particularly close to Paula’s heart - the RNLI.
She says: “My dad use to work on the lifeboats in Yorkshire and I am very proud of that. When we moved to Blackpool I wanted to do something to support them. We have raised over £2,000 for them.”