Family affair  

October 3, 2018

Mother-and-daughter team, Allison and Sarah Antonopoulos, talk about their working relationship and how their complementary skillsets are driving the strategy at the four-star Wynyard Hall hotel

Sarah Antonopoulos had no intention of following her mother, Allison, into the family business, the luxury hotel and destination, Wynyard Hall.

The third generation to call Wynyard Hall ‘home’, it wasn’t until she moved to Leeds for university that she began to realise its full potential.

She reflects: “I was adamant that I wouldn’t work in the family business, but part of my degree in business management was a year’s work placement, so I took it at Wynyard. My mum allowed me to spend time in each department of the business, which was an amazing learning experience.

“I enjoyed it and loved the team so much that I knew I was going to continue there after university.”

Wynyard Hall has been in Sarah’s family ever since her grandfather, property developer and former Newcastle United owner Sir John Hall, bought it in 1987 to use as headquarters for the family property business, Cameron Hall Developments.

Allison Antonopoulos, who is managing director at Wynyard Hall, explains: “Our family had always realised that historic buildings such as Wynyard Hall need an economic use to maintain them and I felt the private Chapel and State Rooms were crying out to be used again as a stunning wedding venue and country house hotel.”

In 2008, Allison began a programme of refurbishments, with Sarah coming on board as weddings coordinator four years later.

And both women agree that their family links – both with each other and with the Hall – are vital to the venue’s success.

Sarah says: “Wynyard holds a lot of memories, not just for us as a family but for the families before us and the guests who have been married, celebrated an occasion or simply enjoyed a relaxing day here, so I want to see it continue to create those memories for people.”

Allison agrees: “It’s our family home as well as a business and we are very attached to it.”

While working with family is not always a recipe for success, Sarah and her mother find their relationship is nothing but a boost, especially as both women bring very different skills to the business.

Sarah says: “Over the years, I’ve worked in most areas of the business, from waitressing to reception to sales, so I bring a lot of knowledge. I know how every link has to work to keep the chain together and keep things going.

“On the other hand, my mum’s strengths lie in her amazing attention to detail and her creativity.

“We do have different personalities and different ways of working so we balance each other out. We both bring different views and ideas to the table – my mum is very creative and takes risks, whereas I’m more organised and sales-driven, so we tend to find a good middle ground that works for the business.”

Allison concurs: “Sarah is more level-headed and good at solving problems, whereas I focus more on coming up with the creative ideas.

“Sarah also keeps me up to date with the latest technology and social media, which for me is still very much a work in progress!

“That’s very much why we work well together – Sarah appreciates my experience and me hers, and we both bring different things to the table.”

Working together has had nothing but a positive impact on their personal relationship, a real testament to the strength of their mother-daughter bond.

Sarah says: “When you know someone is always going to support you, like your mum, you can transfer that to work, so that’s exactly what we do; we always support each other as much as we can.

“On top of that, it’s always fun – mum’s hilarious so she makes me laugh every day. And she’s always there with a glass of wine when I need it!”

And Allison was delighted that her daughter decided to join the family business: “I was so pleased when Sarah came on board – she has been a constant support and a huge help.

“We have a great working relationship and don’t remember ever having a disagreement.

“Sarah has been brought up in the family business from a young age and seen the advantages and disadvantages, but I would say we are a really close family and enjoy it all. It’s been interesting, exciting and challenging, but also great fun.”

As for the future, the pair are, perhaps unsurprisingly, on the same page – to continue building on the remarkable work of the past decade.

Allison says: “Since the hotel opened ten years ago, we have been constantly developing it. We started just as a wedding venue and the business has grown organically since, initially with the development of luxury accommodation, followed by the Wellington Restaurant, which provides a two AA-rosette dining experience, and more recently we developed The Gardens, Farm Shop and Woodland Walks.

“These, combined with our wedding and corporate clients, see us attract more than 100,000 visitors to the estate every year. Now that everything is finished, my vision for the next ten years would be to maintain our standards and create the best customer care.”

Sarah agrees: “I’m so proud of the place that Wynyard Hall has become over the past ten years, and I love watching members of the team progress and do great things.
“I want to continue to inspire quality, to continue to employ and develop people in Teesside and the wider North East region and continue being a fantastic place to visit.”

Wynyard Hall

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