Foxes Hotel is a very special place. Delightfully situated on the seafront of the beautiful seaside town of Minehead it is the UK’s only training hotel for young people with learning disabilities.
Miles will be 18 next summer and moving into adulthood. He is currently in a 6th form at a special school and will continue his learning journey by going away to college just like lots of young people. As a family we have visited all the local college learning supported departments but Miles’s special educational needs are such that he will almost certainly attend a specialist residential college which our borough is unable to provide.
So on a sunny Friday morning four of us set off (myself, Miles, his 15-year-old brother Dominic and Lyn, our friend and long established carer of Miles) to Somerset to stay in a town nestled between the hills of Exmoor and the sea – Minehead.
We were very excited as we were going to spend two whole days and nights in Foxes Hotel, something I had longed for. Foxes Hotel is in an ideal location, the beach is literally opposite and the heritage West Somerset Steam Railway is a stone’s throw away, the start of the South West Coastal Path is nearby by, not forgetting the quaint little town with bustling cafes, shops and a historic harbour all within easy walking distance.
But we didn’t just fancy a weekend in Minehead, we went for the truly unique experience that only Foxes Hotel can offer. Foxes Hotel and Foxes Academy is the UK’s only training hotel and specialist catering college for young people with learning disabilities. The 3-year course offers training in independent life skills in residential learner houses, plus the opportunity to learn catering skills in a real operating hotel, with paying guests, where a vast selection of functions take place all year round.
Could this be the right next step for Miles on his pathway to independence?
Our visit began in the hotel’s dining room. We walked in to a plethora of smiling faces on young learners, their bright yellow tabards (their uniforms) matching the equally bright yellow sunshine that shone through the many dining room windows, ten of them having a meeting around a table all turning at once to look at us.
We were escorted to our table by a young learner whose job that day would be as waiter. The pre-booked lunch smelled delicious – fish ‘n’ chips with home baked bread rolls. We sat amongst other families who were there like us for a presentation which was to follow in the tastefull- decorated lounge with fabulous sea views.
After the formal part of the presentation we visited one of the learners’ houses. The house was only 5 minutes’ walk out the back through the gardens and onto the main high street, a lovely stone period house tucked in between shops and cafes. There we met some of the young people, cheeky, chatty, quiet and shy, all individual all unique with varying needs and their young and older support staff who were nuturing and kind. We were free to chat to them and ask them questions, which had the parents smiling. Some of the more communicative learners chatted to the prospective applicants asking them about favourite bands and football clubs – all very normal. They had a funky brightly-coloured communal dinning room, a clean and tidy kitchen with visual rotas on the walls, a comfy lounge with a big TV and we also were invited into a few of the learners’ individual bedrooms decorated with their favourite things – Thomas the Tank Engine bed linen, a few teddies, Chelsea Football Club memorabilia and a couple of girlie pop star posters – we were in one of the boys’ houses.
Once we’d checked in properly we dumped our bags in our spacious, bright beautifully furnished rooms, the “Three Amigos” – Miles, Dom and I in one and Lyn in the other, we both had super sea views, but Lyn’s was the best, then we were off exploring the seafront and harbour.
Dinner at 6pm, that’s what it said in the Guest Information booklet. So we were there – although still a bit stuffed from lunch! Three smiling faces welcomed us with “Good evening” as we walked into the lobby ahead of the dinning room. The college learners attired in their sunny yellow tabards ready to take our orders and wait on our table, some experienced, some needing a little bit of support were all friendly and diligent. The warm caring supervisors were never far away keeping and eye like a loving mother hen!
The food was home made and delicious, there was lots of it and the menu was varied and modern. What more could we want. Over the weekend we journeyed on a steam train visiting the historic seaside town of Watchet, we had a cream tea, mooched about in the shops and paddled in the sea.
I only cried twice during our visit, once with laughter when Miles burped very loudly at breakfast and made a young waitress jump and the other with joy when I happened upon two young learners whistling whilst going about their cleaning duties with polish and cloth in hand.
Being at Foxes felt a bit like being at home, some of the décor was a bit dated, very comfy and spotless (there’s a lot a cleaning going on) The support staff were professional, totally supportive and truly caring, just watching them interact with the college learners had me welling up again and again. The learners clearly loved being there – as did we, it was just like our world and we can’t wait to go back again. Whether this will be as a customer again or as the parent of a Foxes Hotel student, we’ll just have to wait and see! Do go to Foxes if you get the chance – you will not be disappointed.
To find out more about the hotel, please visit their website for more information: