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the retreat at elcot park 

During the lengthy lockdown periods of the COVID-19 pandemic most of the nation took on new past times.

From crocheting to cycling, quiz nights to card games, the added downtime gave us the chance rediscover new talents and spend more time honing skills.

Hector Ross, managing partner of The Signet Collection, went that one, massive step further.

He bought a hotel. Two, in fact.

“I was bored, I didn’t want to sit around. I should have gone and learnt Japanese or something but I had a gut feeling about this and went for it,” he said.

The property that replaced his crocheting or cycling is now The Mitre, a 36-bed boutique hotel near Hampton Court Palace that attracts a never-ending stream of tourists and guests.

The second hotel that caught his lockdown creativity was a former Mercure property in Newbury.

Seeing something special in its faded ‘unlovedness’ Hector reached out to the owner.

“I came here for my children’s swimming lesson – fell in love with the place and thought ‘one day I want to get my hands on it’.”

And that he did.

The Retreat at Elcot Park, Newbury, is now hotel number two’ in the Signet journey.

Location, sensation, reputation

Hector was hooked by its ‘cool location’ just an hour from London and made it his mission to turn the former home of poet Percy and Frankenstein novelist Mary Shelley into an upmarket hotel, “But also a bit of a hangout to come for a coffee,” he added.

Although it has kept its grand but homely charm of a former residence there is nothing spooky or gothic about this 55-room hotel.

It is light and vibrant and sits just to the edge of glam and grand and then takes you right back to the cosy and familiar.

It’s a family business created with a good set of principles, a care for its staff and run by a team whose experience has come from all over the UK hospitality industry (Beaverbrook, sports arenas like Chelsea stadium and the Gordon Ramsay group at Claridges).

Food is a big thing here. Two separate restaurants have been created so that guests can mix-up their dining experiences. “You don’t want to sit in the same restaurant in the same seat three or four times when you go to a hotel,” said Hector.

Unique restaurants and meeting spaces 

Visitors to property will recognise themes and styles borrowed from other high-end, iconic businesses. The main restaurant, 1772, was modelled ‘to have a feel of The Ivy’ and Yü, a pan-Asian fusion eatery reminds one of a similar restaurant in The Dorchester.

Some areas at The Retreat are entirely unique and come with a real ‘wow factor’ such as the Whisky Library.

It’s a richly cosy yet light-filled space that doubles-up as an eccentric meeting room for 40 or a drinks reception area. And of course, a jolly good thinking spot or space to read a book.

There are 60 different types of whisky and a very knowledgeable ‘Whisky Sommelier’ on hand.

Hector said it’s also an ideal place for late night gatherings for whisky tastings and he assured us that among the 60 whiskeys to sample there’s something to suit everyone.

Other event spaces have equally been stamped in Signet Collection style. There’s the 60-seater orangery, another light-filled, full-of-character room for meetings, presentations and more.

On the day that The BNC visited spaces were buzzing with events by a prominent agricultural company and a high profile financial services firm. A publishing company has held repeat events there since its opening.

Signet has thought hard about conference manager customer service, which could be part of the multiple bookings happening in a few short months.

“We’re very systems-led and we’ve developed quite a cool app which enables those running a conference to be in constant communication with an event manager. There’s nothing more annoying than wondering where your coffee is and with this app there’s always someone there,” Hector explained.

Another box ‘ticked’ for event managers is that pre-event set up can be arranged at no extra cost if the availability is there.

“If the set-up has to start the day before, we’re not the sort of venue that would say no. If we can do that and let them load from 3pm the day before then we will,” said Hector.

When the meetings are done there is lots to explore nearby, such as Highclere Castle, plus there’s onsite activities too.

“There are loads of activities here from archery to cocktail masterclasses,” enthused Hector. “And with places like Hungerford nearby we can send groups on an antique treasure hunt.”

“I think post pandemic people who do flexiwork want to get people together. Yes, you want to get your messages across but you also want to do an educational activity or go foraging with one of our chefs.”

Hector is particularly proud of the ‘Courtyard’ an adjoining set of stone cottagey-type buildings that provide homes for shops, treatment salons, spaces for events and it even hosts a visiting farmers’ market each month. 

The entire area can also be used as a breakout space for lunch.

Situated within 16 acres and surrounded by farmland, The Retreat has a beautiful location and modernisations such as the ‘window into the kitchen’ (which took 27 separate planning applications to seek approval) have the feel and appeal of ‘always being there.’

The newly-installed outdoor pool also has a decadent charm that makes it look uncannily like movie stars in the 50s hung out there, like it’s always been part of the fabric of the hotel.

There’s an indoor pool, too, that is part of a hotel spa. During our tour a lead therapist popped his head around the door to say that since opening, more and more event managers are booking therapists and treatments as one of the breakouts and one of the draws is the rooms’ relaxing, extra wide, heated beds.

Of real beds, they are pretty spectacular too and reasonably priced at a start price of £187 a night. Each room or suite is styled uniquely in relaxing blues and greens and each one is named after a different local dignitary. “If you’re a company booking the entire hotel, the different twists to each and every room is a real talking point,” said Hector.


Hopefully, there are no more lockdown periods, but the creativity sparked by the events of 2020 and 2021 is still there.

There are plans for a third hotel near Leicester and development is underway for nine, residential, two-bed apartments at the Newbury property and further down the line there are hopes to build a purpose-built events centre.

For now, The Retreat is embedding its boutique charm into the UK short stay and corporate events market and part of that growth period is taking on board feedback.

“We’re listening to anyone who takes a function here and getting their feedback. The positives have all been about our people and the diversity of our product. There are areas for improvement and we’re working on that. We need more investment in AV. We live in this digital era where you don’t always have everyone around the table and you have to bring everyone together with the latest tech in events but we’ll get there.

“My way of working is instil each property with lots of passion, energy, love, money, commitment and turn them around. The goal is to have six hotels.”

BNC members’ direct contact is Alec Jeeves, director of sales, who said that he enjoyed starting the Signet Collection’s corporate eventprof marketing journey at The BNC Show in September.

He is confident that event managers will find something special at The Retreat at Elcot Park.

“It’s a unique property offering affordable luxury with a transport link an hour tops from London. It’s great for companies who want to get out of town but not travel too far.

“The event that’s on today, the main organiser is leaving at midday but the rest of the team are staying on because they don’t meet as often as they used to because of the hybrid working and they are going to have another meeting and then do something in the spa or around the grounds.

“I’m looking forward to introducing us to people who haven’t heard of us before but who may know of Hector and I from our time at Beaverbrook.

“If we build the events centre it will be a complete game changer for us but it won’t take away the tranquillity from the main hotel.”