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One third of UK hostels at risk of closure | Travel

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For most hostels across the UK a sunny September weekend would mean fully booked rooms and busy bars and lounges. But this week hostels have been processing cancellations in response to the UK government’s “rule of six” announcement – on top of a severely challenging summer that saw a drastic reduction in occupancy rates as owners adjusted to social distancing guidelines. Some found operating a business based on large groups and shared experiences impossible under post-lockdown rules – according to Independent Hostels UK (IHUK), a network with 420 members, over a third of hostels did not open their doors at all. Even those that are full – albeit at limited capacity – face a fight for survival.

In research being carried out by IHUK, around a third of the hostels surveyed so far say they won’t survive more than six months in the current climate. Another quarter say they might have a year. This was prior to the “rule of six” which has added to the pressure now that groups of friends and families from different households, and school groups are barred.

“We are still trying to get our head around exactly what the new law means for our sector,” said Sam Dalley, editor of IHUK’s website and guidebook. “Hostels have gone one of two ways since re-opening: larger ones operating more like B&Bs and smaller ones like holiday cottages – but the rule of six has completely scuppered them. There are numerous bookings for next few weeks with groups of multiple households, which they’ve had to cancel.”

Operating like a B&B has been successful for many hostels over the summer, attracting guests with cheap private rooms – some for as little as £10 a night – in beauty spots such as the Lakes, Peak District and Cornish coast.

YHA began reopening its 150 properties in England and Wales from 17 July, including 30 hostels with private rooms on a B&B basis, the rest as exclusive hire. “We’ve always offered private rooms if you want them, but people have picked up on that more, so for the longer term, that’s positive’” said chief executive James Blake. “There are new people that have discovered hostelling through this.”

Cohort Hostel in St Ives has been operating at 40% of its usual capacity, offering private rooms and dorms for exclusive use by those from the same household (from £47). Each room was assigned a shower cubicle, and communal toilets were cleaned hourly.

The kitchen at the Cohort Hostel in St Ives. Hostel’s have had to close their communal areas since reopening after lockdown



The kitchen at the Cohort Hostel in St Ives. Hostel’s have had to close their communal areas since reopening after lockdown

“What saved us is our location. We’re really lucky, being in a prime spot in the town centre and in a beautiful building. So despite our lack of communal spaces, I think people were just really happy to be away,” said owner Lee Strickland, who runs the hostel with her husband Dan. “Our main thing has always been making St Ives affordable, and that’s still really important to us, especially now.”

A shortage of holiday cottages and campsite pitches over the summer has also led to bookings from people who would never normally consider a hostel, including families who had cancelled plans to go abroad.

“Because Cornwall is so busy, we’re getting a lot of people that have never stayed in a hostel before – we’ve had back-to-back bookings of families for most of the summer,” said Strickland.

Strickland said Cohort is getting by for now, thanks to VAT breaks and government loan schemes, but they won’t be enough to keep the hostel afloat long term. She estimates they have until April next year, when they will have faced what she calls “three winters in a row” with winter levels of occupancy from summer 2020 through to the start of summer 2021

“We can’t survive like this long-term. With the recent [rule of six] restrictions we can’t have any groups, such as student societies or schools – so we’ve lost our winter business,” added Strickland. “We’ll probably close soon until spring, unless we get more bookings, but even October is looking desolate.”

Saddle Mountain Hostel in Great Glen, in the Highlands, reopened at the end of August. “Full capacity” is down from 22 to 12 guests under the current restrictions in Scotland, and so far bookings have been minimal.

“In reality, the occupancy is nothing like 12,” said Greg Barclay, who co-owns the property with his partner, Helen Cunningham.

“Where we are, the only people that have had any interest in staying in hostels are traditional hostel and outdoors guests, who mainly travel alone or with groups of friends – who can’t now share a room. We were “full” last night with four guests, one guest per room. Their other four friends had to sleep in their van outside.”

With the hostel’s communal kitchen off limits the couple have been ferrying takeaways from the nearest restaurant. On top of a shrinking income, tightening restrictions could mean a rethink in 2021.

“In winter it’s generally walking clubs who use the hostel for the weekend, for 15 to 20 people, all from different households.” said Barclay. “But with the current rules [from Monday, a similar rule of six will be adopted in Scotland] this, our only source of income during winter, has now disappeared. We may have to change the nature of what we are doing, and think about being more like a B&B. However, people expect en suites in B&Bs, so that would mean major and costly renovation.”

Barclay, like Strickland at Cohort Hostel, thinks part of the problem stems from people’s outdated assumptions of hostelling, as a basic option for walkers. Last month’s Scottish Tourism Index report found that when given several accommodation options, just 2% of Scots said they’d considered staying in a hostel in 2020. Separate research by VisitBritain found a similarly low interest with 6% of UK adults who intended to take a trip between October 2020 and March 2021 saying they would consider hostel accommodation.

The unique challenges faced by the hotel sector were outlined in the recent Support Our Hostels campaign, which began in Scotland and was co-led by Saddle Mountain. It called on the the government to provide financial aid to help hostels through winter. The findings of the IHUK survey will be used to bolster its lobbying.

“Hostels are struggling more than other accommodation because of their shared nature,” said IHUK’s Dalley. “And in order to reopen they’ve had to shelve their main attraction – being social. Combine that with reduced occupancy and it’s a nightmare.”

In Scotland, the campaign group has already been told by the Scottish government that the “money has run out”. Without financial aid or a change in the law to allow more guests, the outlook is far from sunny, said Dalley. “A lot of them are in trouble. If you want hostels there in the future, you need to use them now, or they won’t survive,” said Dalley.

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The best weight loss tips for women undergoing menopause

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Menopause is the natural decline in the reproductive hormones when a woman reaches the age of 40-50. When a woman has not had her periods for one full year, she is said to be menopausal. The menopause stage can have numerous side effects on the body including weight gain, mood swings, hot flashes and hormonal imbalance. The weight gain during menopause occurs due to a drop in the estrogen levels, ageing and inadequate sleep.

Though it can be very challenging to lose weight during menopause, eating certain foods and adopting some lifestyle changes can help one lose extra kilos. Here are some weight loss tips for women undergoing menopause.


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Clap, clap, clap… It’s not only heroes who deserve applause | Coronavirus

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Clap for carers, clap for heroes. Clap for teachers, clap for bin collectors, clap for postmen, clap for chemists, clap for shelf stackers, clap for police. Clap for neighbours dropping off medicine for former enemies, leaving the bag only slightly in the rain. Clap for freelancers working eight days a week to prevent their old routines of pornography and fretting being exposed by a flatmate. Clap for the woman trudging out into the world on a daily walk where every footstep is another curse uttered. Clap for the couple crossing the road, veering away from oncomers as if absolutely pissed at breakfast time.

Clap for the snack makers, busy every 45 minutes with new ideas for crumpets and the end of the cheese. Clap for the dishwashers, initially excited by all the attention received – the detritus from three meals a day at first an exciting challenge (“A plate stained with Nutella and sriracha? By God, I’ll give it a go!”), now an insult, every rinse cycle a slow crawl towards electric morbidity. Clap for the man in the flat over the road who does Yoga with Adriene every morning at 10, then spends the rest of the day playing Fifa in a towelling-robed rage. Clap for the houseplants that have refused to die, despite the new experimental watering regime. Clap for the scented candle, infusing the house with the memory of grapefruit in order to cover the stench of five people’s fears.

Clap for the footballers doing more in their free time for hungry children than politicians for whom it’s their actual jobs. Clap for the parents making half a tomato and a coin bag of grated cheese last a week. Clap for the strangers feeding those who can’t afford to feed themselves. Clap for coffee, clap for aspirin, clap for Calpol, clap for gin. Clap for pictures of other people’s houses on Instagram, built in hot countries in the 70s out of wood and concrete and filled with small, exquisite things one can zoom in on in the night. Clap for the nights, which mark another day completed. Clap for small things done well, like a pencil beautifully sharpened, or a slice of toast unburned. Clap for an untantrummed hour of homeschooling, for a book not thrown. Clap for the person who hasn’t left the house for months, their bedroom a running track, their window a mirror, their phone a window. Clap for the Tweeter who has chosen not to share a video warning about microchips in the vaccine. Clap for the dogs, fried with attention.

Clap for the teenager who last summer missed their first kiss, with tongues and hands in the shade of a tree. Clap for the teenager’s mother, forced to share a sofa with their hormones. Clap for the moments of connection so rare and gorgeous they sparkle like a sequin in mud. Clap for the time passed, all the hours we haven’t died, all the weeks and all the months, clap for another virtually pain-free minute, and again, and again. Clap for the couple that found love in lockdown, and clap for the disgusting habits they each continue to hide from each other in dark corners of their one-bed flat. Clap for the lady with the litter-picker, removing face masks from the bush. Clap for the person telling you their anxiety dream, even though it exposes far too much truth for this time of day. Clap for oven chips, edible even when forgotten overnight. Clap for to-do lists, for their glittering potential. Clap for the promise of snow.

Clap for the boy responding correctly to his friend’s sudden grief. Clap for meal-planning, and a pasta sauce eked out over a fortnight. Clap for the girl who has extended her cleansing routine so masterfully that she is now able to stifle her panic for upwards of three hours a day. Clap for the nephew in the chat group who unpicks all his aunties’ forwarded hoax messages without once taking a patronising or exasperated tone. Clap for that very large tree in the park that has surely seen worse than this. Clap for the ex who elegantly dismisses a drunk midnight text. Clap for unlimited data. Clap for the beds that transition at daybreak into offices, and the kitchens to schools. Clap for the cat, unimpressed by it all. Clap for weather, something else to talk about. Clap for the bit of thumbnail that valiantly held on, despite being worried by its sister hand almost constantly for 11 whole months. Clap for the teaching assistant on Zoom doing all the voices at reading time, and the recorded assembly explaining Brexit with binbags.

Clap and clap, your twice-washed hands slapping drily against each other with the force and intensity of a baby that’s seen ice-cream. Clap until they chafe, then continue clapping and, when the blood threatens to come, clap louder still. Clap until you can feel your knuckles, clap until it feels you will clap your hands down to the wrist. Clap, to show your respect, to show you’re alive, to show you are a witness to these many small glories. For something to do, and wordlessly say, and it slightly hurts, but somebody hears you, not waving but clapping.

Email Eva at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman



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Baby leaves are a joy to grow – and good to eat | Gardening advice

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I am forever getting into trouble with gardening’s gatekeepers. To date, perhaps the most surprising instance was the really quite lively backlash that occurred when I called gardening “exciting” in an industry talk. According to a flurry of blogposts and social media messages, this was a terrible, even irresponsible, word choice. Gardening apparently is not “exciting”, rather merely “engaging” or “absorbing”. This suggests that, for large parts of the gardening old-guard, there is not only one correct way to garden, but also only one emotion to feel when you are doing it.

To my mind, if you do not feel excited when gardening there are only two possibilities: you either simply see it as outdoor tidying up instead of the wonder of creating artworks from living nature; or you are incapable of feeling excitement, even as the miracle of life is unfolding in front of you.

When I sowed my first packet of seeds, given to me by Santa at a Christmas party when I was six, I vividly remember being absolutely astounded by the pure magic of dry, brown grains exploding into growth within only a couple of days in the tropical heat of Singapore. I am not ashamed to say that, more than 30 years later, I get the same sense of wonder, no matter how many times I do it.

At a time when we are all stuck indoors, we could do with some of that wonder. So, here are some of my favourite seeds to sow, no matter who you are or where you live, to add light, colour, flavour and, yes, excitement, to the dark days of winter.

One of the most rewarding types of plants to grow are micro-greens. Essentially, these are the tiny seedlings of any plant with edible leaves, which can be harvested and eaten at the sprouted stage – basically posh cress. They are a nifty way to get a harvest in as little as five days, turning leftovers from last year’s seed packets into the kind of thing you’d see gracing the plates of fancy restaurants. In addition to the familiarly fiery mustard and cress, radish seeds almost always make great candidates for this treatment, including purple-leaved varieties that give you dazzling burgundy crops of peppery leaves.

For those who like milder flavours, peas and chickpeas provide fresh, sweet leaves, often started from seeds fished from dry supermarket packets. Any herb will work, too – lemon balm, dill, fennel, mint, coriander and parsley all make great sprouts. And for grass-like blades of warm pungency, anything from the onion family is also a good bet, from chives to onions and leeks.

Finally, if you are after something more quirky, try sowing stevia, a herb which contains compounds that taste more than 300 times sweeter than sugar; the little leaves that grow taste as if they have been sprinkled in the sweet stuff.

Growing herbs and baby leaves is a straightforward, low-cost way to marvel at the miracle of creation, that can be enjoyed by anyone with a windowsill – and they have incredible flavour, too.

Follow James on Twitter @Botanygeek



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