Highland business in deal to solve affordable home crisis

Seaforth Chef Venca Jaros (left), Duty Manager Demi Yorke (centre) and General Manager Jody Keating have all welcomed the low- rent permanent accommodation for staff in Ullapool

Hospitality firm secures low-rent, permanent worker accommodation

A HIGHLAND hospitality business has moved to sidestep the region’s crippling housing shortage by investing in bespoke, low-rent accommodation for staff.

Owners of The Seaforth in Ullapool were facing the reality of not being able to fully open their popular Seafood restaurant, bar and Fish and Chip Shop, such is the acute lack of affordable homes in the area.

Assessing this trade barrier, Seaforth owners, J&R Group, took the decision to purchase a local motel specifically for staff, with plans currently being developed to extend further on the site.

When the Morefield Motel came on the market for £475 000, owners took the decision to bid as it would fill an accommodation gap currently unable to be met by local or national authorities.

The purchase has made available 10 rooms 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 rooms are already full, with up to 45 people being employed in high season.

And Seaforth bosses are now scoping further development on-site, such is the shortage of accommodation for hospitality workers in the west highlands.

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

“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 highland housing shortage, allied with less EU workers following Brexit, has placed severe staffing pressures on hospitality and tourism providers in the highlands and islands.

Recent council housing builds in Ullapool, a scenic coastal stop on the hugely popular NC500 route, were snapped up fast. 

Last year Salmon Scotland chief, Tavish Scott, described the affordable housing shortage as ‘the most pressing issue we face in the Highlands and Islands.’

Similarly, a 2017 HIE 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,” added Jody Keating, General Manager.

“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.”

The low rental option provided by employers, The Seaforth, has made a major lifestyle difference to staff as they prepare for the influx of visitors heralded by the approach of summer.

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, 2-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.”

Michael Miller, Head of Housekeeping at The Seaforth, said: “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.”

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