Low-rent housing for Highlands hospitality staff

Seaforth Chef Venca Jaros (left), Duty Manager Demi Yorke (centre) and General Manager Jody Keating

RECRUITING hospitality staff is already hard enough, but for businesses in the Highlands, the region’s crippling housing shortage adds an often insurmountable hurdle to increasing the headcount.

But The Seaforth in Ullapool has created its own solution to the problem, by making a substantial investment in bespoke, low-rent accommodation for its staff.

The Seaforth’s owners, J&R Group, were facing the reality of not being able to fully open the popular seafood restaurant, bar and fish and chip shop this season, such was the acute lack of affordable homes for incoming staff.

So when the local Morefield Motel came on the market for £475,000, J&R took the decision to bid for it to fill the accommodation gap currently unmet by local or national authorities.

This has since made 10 rooms available at low rents for local and international staff, with an additional apartment housing managerial staff. Workers are also able to remain in the property all year round, instead of seasonally – a move specifically designed to improve wellbeing and work/life balance.

However, all these rooms are already full, with up to 45 people being employed in The Seaforth’s high season, so J&R are scoping further development on-site.

“Because of our location it is very difficult to find private rental accommodation for staff,” said recruitment manager Delia Keating.

“In fact, it is virtually impossible. We were in the situation where we could not fully open our business because it was limited by accommodation for staff.

“We have a mix of local and international staff, here, so it is really important for them to be able to have a home but there is such a lack of affordable accommodation. We have even had other local businesses asking if we can house their staff because they are struggling to retain good people.”

The housing shortage, allied with less EU workers following Brexit, has placed severe staffing pressures on hospitality and tourism providers across the Highlands and Islands.

Recent council housing builds in Ullapool, a scenic coastal stop on the hugely popular NC500 route, were snapped up fast. A 2017 Highlands and Islands Enterprise report identified housing as having ‘a critical influence on the ability of businesses to recruit and retain staff.’

“We are very grateful to the owners that we have this accommodation,” said Seaforth general manager Jody Keating. “We are aware that this is not an option open to all businesses. Our staff are really important to us. They are like family. If people are coming to Scotland to work, they need a proper home.”

Duty manager Demi Yorke and partner Venca Jaros, Chef de partie, have stayed in hospitality staff accommodation for many years but welcome having a fixed, two-bedroom apartment.

“Private rentals are very difficult to come by,” said Demi. “Now we are within walking distance of work and we have a sense of work/life balance. It is a real home base, not just seasonal accommodation.”

Head of Housekeeping at The Seaforth, Michael Miller, added: “As an expat, having a proper home base is vital. We are able to get involved in the community on days off because we live here.”