David Parkin on an inspiring bar story and a haunted hotel

WHEN I first met Martin Wolstencroft 20 years ago he was a regional manager with pub group Whitbread who had an idea.

It can’t have been a bad idea, because Martin is now the chief executive of a bar and restaurant chain, Arc Inspirations, which operates 19 venues in England with plans to open another three this year.

It all started when Martin and business partner Chris Ure converted space next to the old Lounge Cinema in Headingley into the Arc bar.

There was soon a sports bar called The Box opened nearby and Trio, a three-story restaurant and bar down the road.

Since then they have opened venues in Leeds – including the flagship Banyan in City Square, York, Manchester and soon will open in Birmingham.

The group is now focused on three core brands: Banyan, Manahatta and Box and a recent investment in Arc Inspirations by BGF has given it the firepower to grow across the UK.

Martin Wolstencroft was the guest speaker at the latest Fresh Thinking Network event at Banyan – where else? – in Leeds.

His story is fascinating because he tells the unvarnished version of events – not the put through a filter, look how great I am approach often adopted by would-be entrepreneurs.

A Lancashire lad, he arrived in Yorkshire to study at Leeds Metropolitan University, attracted by its strength in rugby league.

He ended up becoming the manager of the famous Skyrack pub in Headingley, living on the premises and learning the ropes in the gruelling pub trade.

Now with a chain of bars he is the first to admit, life doesn’t always get easier, despite success.

He was one of the few business owners to put their head above the parapet during the pandemic and talk about how he was forced to borrow £5m to remain closed during lockdown.

He told guests at the Fresh Thinking Network event – founded by Fresh Thinking Capital for talented young professionals working in Leeds – that following the pandemic, the challenges remain.

Energy costs have rocketed, food and drink prices are rising and one thing that shocked all of us there, is that Arc Inspirations have a staff turnover rate of over 100% a year.

Given the service and professionalism in bars run by Arc Inspirations is something that customers comment on, the focus on training by management is massive.

Martin ended his presentation with a short video about rugby league legend Kevin Sinfield’s incredible fundraising endeavours for MND on behalf of his former Leeds Rhinos teammate Rob Burrow.

“Sir Kev” has raised millions by running an epic trilogy of challenges including seven marathons in seven days, running 100 miles in 24 hours and then, last November, seven ultra marathons – 280 miles – in seven days.

And every step of the way on those journeys he has been accompanied by Martin cycling alongside him as part of a group of loyal supporters who kept him going.

There aren’t many things that leave me emotional and struggling for words, but, as compere at the event, having to get up and follow that film with words that do justice to the achievements of Kevin Sinfield was one of them.

Martin had another great achievement by actually being at the Fresh Thinking event.

I introduced him by telling the audience that they have been fortunate to hear from sports stars who have triumphed at the highest level and a mountaineer who has conquered Everest, but I thought Martin Wolstencroft should be ranked up there with them.

Because he arrived at the event straight from Manchester Airport after flying in from a two-day “fact-finding” tour of Rome as a guest of Italian beer brand Peroni.

Now that’s what I call dedication.


COULD we have a minute’s silence please in memory of the Midland Hotel.

Bradford’s flagship hotel isn’t shutting down.

It is much worse than that.

It has been bought by Britannia Hotels.

The grade-II listed Midland is one of Yorkshire’s iconic railway hotels, built by the Midland Railway Company and opened in 1890.

It has welcomed famous guests including Laurel & Hardy, The Beatles, Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson, Sean Connery, George Formby, JB Priestley and Bram Stoker.

Set above Forster Square Station in the city, in the glory days of Bradford’s wool industry it was frequented by the city’s successful entrepreneurs and was THE place to stay for affluent visitors.

The hotel closed in 1975 but was brought back to life by Bradford entrepreneur John Pennington in 1993 and then sold to Peel Hotels in 1998.

The Midland was put on the market by Peel last year with a guide price of £3m and has now been bought by Britannia Hotels, which owns 63 UK hotels and the Pontins holiday parks business.

If guest reviews of Britannia’s other iconic Yorkshire hotel. The Grand at Scarborough, are anything to go by then the newest hotel in the portfolio doesn’t have much to look forward to under its new ownership.

Guests arriving at the 156-year-old Grand Hotel, which still stands resplendent above the seaside resort, might be wowed by its magnificent Victorian exterior.

Inside is a different story with only marginally better prospects of a relaxing stay than if Norman Bates was checking you into his eponymous motel.

(Younger readers, please Google ‘Pyscho’.)

A report in the Sunday Times 18 months ago said that the local council in Scarborough had written to Britannia Hotels requesting an urgent meeting about restoring some of its tarnished reputation.

One of the nicer guest reviews said the Grand makes Fawlty Towers “look like the Ritz”.

Apparently one pensioner suffered panic attacks at the sight of her room and that is no surprise when you read stories about doors that do not lock, bloodstains on walls and carpets, skid marks on bed sheets, food poisoning, pest infestations and used condoms in the hall.

One guest walked into their bedroom for the first time to find the lavatory had not been flushed.

Apparently a number of rooms are occupied by Afghan refugees.

“I feel sorry for them,” a former guest said. “As if escaping from the Taliban wasn’t enough.”

So now the Midland Hotel, which former owner Peel Hotels described as having one of the “finest Victorian interiors in the city”, including a passageway with floor to ceiling decorative Burmantofts tiles, is in the Britannia Hotels portfolio.

I’ve just checked and you can book a room to stay at the Midland tonight for £79.

But if you hang on until Britannia Hotels has had it for a while I’m sure you might be able to get a better deal.

Because if you would like to stay at The Grand in Scarborough this evening then you can book a single room “without windows” for just £30.

But hurry, because according to the Britannia Hotels website, there are: “Only 4 rooms left!”

The Midland Hotel in Bradford is apparently haunted by the ghost of one of its former guests.

Sir Henry Irving – who died in the building more than 100 years ago –  was the first actor to be awarded a knighthood and is thought to have been the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

I think Sir Henry’s ghost will soon be moving out around the corner to the Travelodge Bradford Central where rooms cost just £34 a night and at least his ghost won’t be confronted by anything scary.


WHEREVER you stand on the question of junior doctors going on strike to try to secure a 35% pay rise, I think we can agree on one thing.

Their industrial action has provided a better quality of picket line protest chanting.

Forget the, “What do we want? Fair pay! When do we want it? Now!” chants used by rail workers and ambulance staff during recent strikes.

No, members of the British Medical Association have proved much more creative during their current 96 hour walk out.

On a picket line outside University College Hospital in Euston this week junior doctors chanted, held placards aloft and encouraged passing motorists to toot their horns in support.

But they also sang their own adapted version of the Backstreet Boys’ hit ‘I Want It That Way’.

You can watch a clip of it on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/GHRLondonNews/status/1645726129536352259?s=20

Perhaps other strikers should take a leaf out of their book.

But in the meantime perhaps I can suggest they make some changes to their current chants because they are clearly not achieving what they want.

So, all join in, follow me: “What do we want? A back-dated 4% pay rise for 2022 with another 4% this year.

“When do we want it? Phased in over two years and including a front end lump sum payment.”

Have a great weekend.

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