By Harry Mottram: Going, going, gone – about sums it up for the company that ran the Oakhouse Hotel in Axbridge as the landlord Steve Jenkins confirmed that The Oakhouse Hotel Limited incorporated in 2007 is no more. It has left couples planning on wedding receptions there in the lurch and out of pocket along with any suppliers – although an administrator has not been named.

Today (14 February) contractors continued emptying the hotel of furniture, fixtures and fittings. They would not confirm where the van loads of tables, chairs and beds were going other than to say they had been contracted to take them away to an undisclosed site. It was the one day of the year – St Valentine’s Day – when you would expect the restaurant to be packed with romantic couples – not workmen carrying out the tables.

In 2021 when the hotel’s last full accounts were published, they showed a turnover of more than a third of a million pounds but a loss of just under £2,000 that year but with liabilities tens of thousands of pounds. This was the time of Covid which hit the hospitality industry hard – and it can be argued that the long-term effects of the way the public spend for their nights out, weekends away etc has changed habits – exacerbated by the Cost of Living Crisis. Running any business is tough when there is a downturn and the hospitality industry is more susceptible to household budgets being trimmed than most.

The fall-out had begun weeks ago when I was contacted by unhappy couples trying to find out what was going on at the hotel when their booking enquiries were not being answered. I could only refer them to the owners Luke and Melanie Sturman who are listed as the officers at Companies House and whose postal addresses are in Dorset.

With the hotel and restaurant closed for some time the rumours grew that something was amiss – and those rumours proved to be true as workers carried out the furniture in an undignified end to the business this week. The BBC and ITV News both ran stories of the hapless couples left high and dry and without a wedding venue after the collapse of the company. Scott Norton-Ashley and his fiancee Jolie Stokes spoke of their disappointment as they had planned everything around the hotel – which is a wonderful spot for a wedding with a church close by, a Square to spill out into – especially on a sunny day – and of course the historic setting in Axbridge.

Anton Booth and his fiancee Maddie told the BBC that there had been “a lot of confusion and panic” when a few weeks ago, the couple received an email from the venue’s in-house wedding planner, Amanda-Louise Knight, informing them that she no longer worked with them. She blamed the cost-of-living crisis that meant some wedding venues were struggling. This won’t be a comfort for the couples planning on using the hotel for their receptions as some like Nicole Boncquet and her fiancé Connor Creed had booked the hotel for an April wedding and now appear to have lost their £500 deposit.

Looking at the liabilities on the last available accounts for the hotel it would be unlikely that some or all of the deposits and unpaid suppliers’ invoices will be paid. Interestingly Luke Sturman noted in the accounts in 2021 that the business had focused on the hotel, bar and restaurant – but had decided to concentrate on weddings due to the profit margins – and couples will be aware that an average wedding is more than £20,000 while the reception can easily run up a bill for up to half of that depending on the number of guests.

With the news now official that the Hotel is closed at least there is some good news from the owners of the bricks and mortar who said it is almost certain to reopen again at some stage this year. Writing in the Axbridge Community FaceBook the owner Neil Jenkins reported: “I confirm the tenant company of the Oakhouse Hotel has gone into liquidation.

“For those who booked a wedding, room or event, my understanding is you will be contacted soon by the liquidator of the company with further information.

“Due to popular demand for a community led venue, offering us locals somewhere else to enjoy events, get-togethers and group meetings, I am pleased to share the news that I am in negotiations with potential new tenants, who are local themselves and passionate about Axbridge and its residents.

“Trading conditions in hospitality are tough and venues are having to rapidly adapt to new ways of operating, as are we as customers. I hope you will join me, and Julia, by supporting the Oakhouse once it re-opens. It really is a case of ‘use it or lose it’.”

Everyone in the town will be wishing the future owners of the lease to run the hotel well as it provides employment, brings visitors to Axbridge and comes into its own during the pageant and other major events – let alone weddings.

Note: accounts of limited companies along with who owns them and where they live and when appointed are in the public domain and can be found at Companies House.

See also:

Axbridge News is edited by Harry Mottram and is published for the interest of himself and fellow residents.

Harry is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc