A college and a brewery have combined to create a centre of learning for the licensed trade. Martin Whittaker reports
FROM the outside the White Hart looks much like any other seaside hotel.
But inside it has been transformed into a new training pub, thanks to a partnership between a further education college and a brewery.
St Austell College in Cornwall has teamed up with St Austell Brewery, a 150-year-old family firm which has 200 pubs throughout Devon and Cornwall.
The 18-bedroom hotel in the centre of St Austell has had a pound;100,000 refurbishment, including new kitchens, bar and dining areas.
The basement, which once housed servants' quarters, has been converted into the brewery's training department.
Launched this summer, the White Hart is offering British Institute of Innkeeping accredited courses and valuable work experience for trainees in the catering, pub and hotel trade.
"We intend the White Hart to be a flagship for Cornish food and suppliers, and to promote the Cornish experience," says Vicky Crossingham, the director of personnel at the St Austell Brewery.
She said the hotel will aim to attract trainees from throughout the UK. It will offer hands-on experience to a range of catering and pub trade trainees, including chefs, licensees and bar staff.
"Other breweries have training establishments, but because they're bottom-line profit organisations, they wouldn't see this as being completely profitable.
"We're running the White Hart at a cost to the brewery, though we're looking to break eve if we can. But it will pay off for us - it means our bar staff and managers will get the best training.
"The college had tried to do the training artificially, but people are always aware that they're going to a college. Here trainees get really solid experience working with customers."
Training is run and monitored by St Austell College, whose campus is across the road from the brewery. Last year, the college took over the training of all the brewery's Modern Apprentices and trainees.
Sandra Best-Holland, the college's training liaison officer, says the chance of working hotel like the White Hart adds a new dimension.
"The advantage is if someone came to us and said I'm thinking of becoming a chef but I'm not sure, we would let them work in the White Hart for two months to see how they get on.
"At the end they may say 'this is wonderful, this is what I want to do'. Or they may say 'I'll try something else'. If we have this facility where we can try trainees out in this way, they're less likely to drop out."
The pub trade's accrediting body, the British Institute of Innkeeping, welcomed the launch of the White Hart training centre.
Spokeswoman Georgina Wald said it was part of a bid to raise standards nationally in readiness for a Government shake-up of the licensing laws which could require licensees to have an accredited qualification.
"The pub industry has changed," she said.
"You're more than a licensee now - you're a retailer and you've got to have all the skills that go with retailing."