Dyslexic who grew up to be hotel genius

Stephen and below pictures of the 'luxurious  rooms in Church Suites
Stephen and below pictures of the 'luxurious rooms in Church Suites

As someone who suffered from dyslexia, Stephen Hargreaves doesn’t have particularly fond memories of school.

Actually that’s probably understating it.

“I couldn’t wait to leave, I hated the place,” he says.

Happy to admit to being useless at any subject other than maths, he was told he’d never amount to anything.

You’ve probably guessed the next bit. It’s the part where we tell you it is Stephen who has had the last laugh.

Now aged 40, a lad who grew up on Whitegate Drive has opened a hotel which has just been named best in Britain and second best on the planet.

What we’ve done is not for everyone, I understand that, but I know my market

As well as that he runs several companies and owns a successful property business.

Oh, and he’s about to open what he describes as “the coolest bar, restaurant and live music venue in the Lake District”.

It is fair to say the boy done good.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve proved anyone wrong as such because I don’t really see myself as a success story. I’m quite a shy bloke really, who’s bit unsure about himself,” says Stephen.

“But I suppose when you consider I was in the bottom set for everything at school … I guess it’s given me that drive.

“I’m dyslexic and I still can’t read or write very well but I think, after having spoken to a few others who have the condition, it allows you to possibly think about things in a different way – and maybe that’s helped me when it comes to my business sense.”

A former pupil at Anchorsholme Primary and Montgomery High, Stephen went on to do a surveying degree at Bispham Tech and spent the next four or five years in sales, selling cars.

It was perhaps natural that he’d end up doing that. His father and grandfather had done the same, indeed his grandfather founded Hargreaves and Bailey just before the Second World War, famous for being one of the first car dealerships in Blackpool.

It was at the age of 24, that he decided to leave town and do something different.

He headed to the Lake District. His father had bought property there and asked Stephen to run it for him.

“The period after that I did the most important thing that any entrepreneur can do – learn,” he explains, recalling his early days as a businessman.

“I surrounded myself with people in the industry and did things like import stuff from China without realising the tax issues around that. In other words I made a lot of mistakes.

“I spent hours trailing the streets posting letters through doors asking if anyone was interested in selling their property. I basically worked really hard to try and succeed.”

Eight years ago, aged 32, he bought a hotel – the Cranleigh, in Bowness. Then it was a run-down two-star joint, split into three buildings.

“The original idea was to do them up, then sell two of them, and that way I’d effectively get the other for free,” he said.

“But I just got a feeling that I could do something with it.

“It was around the same time I had a meeting with someone who told me about this thing I’d never heard of called Google and how it was going to change the world.

“By opening the Cranleigh as a hotel I was able to capitalise on that.”

The hotel has gone from strength to strength, winning plenty of awards and earning Stephen plenty of money, allowing him to expand his business into other areas.

Earlier this year he opened a second hotel in Bowness, the Church Suites, which was named best hotel in the UK at the recent International Hotel & Property Awards – and second best in the world, beating off competition from establishments as far away as Hong Kong, Bali and Oman.

That’s quite an accolade, so what makes his place so special? Better let Stephen explain.

“I work with a very close, trusted team and we asked ourselves ‘what will hotel rooms of the future look like?’ Then we designed it around the ideas we came up with.”

These include controlling the music, lighting and technology in the room at the press of a button (an iPad on the wall, for example, allows you to set each light in your suite to a different colour and brightness), while there’s a huge TV showing hundreds of movies, and the biggest hotel room baths in Europe.

It has already attracted lots of celebrities and footballers – “I can’t tell you which ones, it wouldn’t be right” – but I put it to Stephen that it seems a little out of place with the natural beauty and tradition of the Lakes.

“What we’ve done is not for everyone, I understand that, but I know my market,” he responds.

“It’s clearly not a traditional Lake District hotel. There are already hundreds of them competing for the same people.

“What we wanted was to be unique and create a fun and exciting environment, and to pamper those people who work really hard all week and want total luxury when they go away.

“Plus it tends to rain a bit in the Lakes so it’s nice to be able to go back to your room and chill and watch whatever you want in a massive spa bath.”

Stephen says he has fond memories of his formative years in Blackpool and doesn’t rule out returning to open a hotel at some point – if he can work out how to make money from it.

“I would love to do something but I just can’t get my head around how we could get the rate we’d need to charge to make it work,” he says.

“There are always people who want to stay in the best places when they go away but I’m not sure the percentage of those people is high enough in Blackpool to make it work. You’d certainly have to be very brave to try it.

“The other thing is that it is very seasonal in terms of tourism, whereas in the Lakes it is busy every weekend all year round.

“But maybe one day... It’s certainly something I’ve got my eye on.”

It would be fitting if he did.

Turns out a lad who struggled to read and write and was told he wouldn’t get anywhere in life is doing rather well for himself – as the visitors to his hotel would no doubt testify.

l For more information on Stephen’s hotels in Bowness, go to: www.thecranleigh.com