A hotel assistant manager says being able to help the community during the coronavirus pandemic “is a lifelong memory that will stay with me and my team forever”.

Katie Boulton is assistant manager of Watford Central Travelodge, one of 51 hotels the company have operated during the lockdown to help provide accommodation for NHS staff, key workers and vulnerable groups.

The 29-year-old married mother of two, who lives in Bushey, said: “Watford Central Travelodge is the nearest hotel to Watford General Hospital and it was essential that we were on hand to offer clean, comfortable rooms for the medical staff during the Covid-19 crisis so that they could rest up between their long shifts.

“We have also been supporting our local authorities by providing accommodation for vulnerable groups. In these unprecedented times, having a clean, comfortable room with a comfy bed can mean so much to certain groups of people.”

Being able to provide this service, and the gratitude she has received in return, has made it an experience that will continue to live with her.

Mrs Boulton said: “Operating our hotel during the lockdown when the whole of the UK has completely shut down and providing a service for critical workers and vulnerable groups is a lifelong memory that will stay with me and my team forever.

“The gratitude and appreciation from our customers has been utterly heart-warming and so rewarding. It is times like this when we all have to stick together and help one another.

“So many key workers said the thought of a nice comfortable room with a king size comfy bed waiting for them after a long shift kept them going – and that just put a smile on our faces.

“Across the Travelodge hotel network, we have received thank you notes from ministers, MPs and business leaders just thanking us for supporting their colleagues. During the lockdown every little gesture makes such a difference to everyone’s lives. Putting a smile on our customers’ faces is the reason why we do, what we do.”

Watford Observer:

Cleaning a reception area

Mrs Boulton says her role has not changed too much during lockdown as the hotel has continued “business as usual”, but she has been constantly emphasised the importance of staying safe to staff and customers as following public health and government guidelines have become “a way of life for us now”.

Like many businesses, the hotel has had to change to deal with the challenges of the pandemic. There is signage in public areas advising staff and customers to keep their hands clean, floor markings for social distancing, while Perspex screens and hand sanitisers have been introduced in the reception area.

Although the hotel staff have had to adapt to the physical changes, Mrs Boulton says the biggest ask has been more of an emotional one.

She said: “The biggest challenge is keep everyone's spirits up. You have to come to work with an extra burst of energy to ensure the team morale is high. We are operating in uncertain times. We have to keep positive, be safe and focus on moving ahead – It’s the only way to beat this horrendous virus and keep a sense of normality.”

Watford Observer:

Social distancing markings have been put on the hotel's floors

Asked what she had learnt most from the experience, Mrs Boulton said: “I am very grateful that my team and I were given the opportunity to serve our local community during the pandemic.

“Although we were just doing our normal jobs, the experience that we gained of operating a hotel in a world-wide pandemic is priceless, we learnt so much about ourselves, the power of our inner strength and being the lucky ones to serve our country in its hour of need.

“Right from the start of the lockdown we were given clear guidelines in line with public health and government directions and we had the correct polices in place to ensure that everyone was safe to work during the lockdown.

“The company is continuing to update our health and safety measures and they are working around the clock to get everything in place for when we reopen our hotels and my colleagues return to work in July.

“The pandemic has certainly forced us all to make changes in the way we live, operate and also to prioritise things differently. We cannot take things for granted and the small things in life are even more valuable than we thought.

“We are a resilient industry and we will come out of this stronger than ever. We all have to adapt and keep safe according to the government guidelines and carve a normality that puts safety at the heart of our business for our staff and our customers. My goal will remain the same; stay open, stay safe and stay positive.”