How Rock­e­fellers fell in love with idea all the way from York­shire

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

The re­ces­sion has­tened ex­pan­sion as the Spence fam­ily took ad­van­tage of fall­ing land val­ues and re­newed in­ter­est in hol­i­day­ing at home. It now has 15 sites, in­clud­ing lodges and cot­tages in Corn­wall, Scot­land, Wales, Lan­zarote and the States.

“We were lucky, we had a very good re­ces­sion. We also have joint ven­tures with a lot of big coun­try es­tates and that works well. They have land and we have the ex­per­tise in build­ing and let­ting,” says Matt.

There are plans to build Nat­u­ral Re­treats cot­tages near Pickering and Matt is work­ing with the Duke of Ar­gyll to cre­ate hol­i­day lets on his es­tate in Scot­land.

Op­por­tu­ni­ties in Bri­tain abound but it is the USA where growth looks set to be strato­spheric. This is largely thanks to the back­ing of the Rock­e­feller fam­ily.

“We’d been on fam­ily hol­i­days to Yel­low­stone National Park when I was young and I loved it. It had a big ef­fect of me. It was a dream of mine to take Nat­u­ral Re­treats to Amer­ica so in 2010 I flew out and made a few en­quiries with peo­ple in the prop­erty world.”

One of those con­tacts se­cured him a meet­ing with Mark Rock­e­feller, the grand­son of the leg­endary John D.

“It was a mad rush to get to New York to see him but it was serendip­i­tous be­cause he had a wilder­ness lodge just out­side Yel­low­stone and was look­ing for some­one to help ex­pand the idea.

“The next thing I knew I was on the 50th floor of the Rock­e­feller build­ing in J.D.’s board­room telling Mark about our York­shire farm and the Nat­u­ral Re­treat site in Rich­mond. I told him how we pushed the bound­aries of de­sign and helped peo­ple con­nect with na­ture and he loved it.

“The Rock­e­fellers were founders and donors for the national park sys­tem in Amer­ica, so he was in­ter­ested in what we’d done,” says Matt.

“His back­ing has given our brand cred­i­bil­ity be­cause the Rock­e­fellers are like roy­alty in Amer­ica.”

Part of Mark’s lodge site at South Fork on the Snake River in Idaho has now been turned into a Nat­u­ral Re­treats site.

“There are lot of ho­tel brands in Amer­ica and they are wak­ing up to the fact that there is a need for self-cater­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion for fam­i­lies, so they’re cre­at­ing two bed­room suites, but noone spe­cialises in what we do, which is ac­com­mo­da­tion in and around national parks. There is a mas­sive mar­ket out there and the Amer­i­can peo­ple have re­ally taken us to their hearts.

“We now have three sites in the US with eight more in de­vel­op­ment and the num­bers will grow and grow,” says Matt, who es­ti­mates that there will be 30 Nat­u­ral Re­treats across the world by this time next year.

Work means that he now splits his time be­tween York­shire and Wash­ing­ton.

“I like the US and it’s where I need to be be­cause that’s where a lot of the growth is,” he says. “But I love York­shire and I’m re­ally proud of my roots, which is why I fly the white rose flag in my back gar­den.”


De­port­ment for Dukes and Tips for Toffs is the orig­i­nal com­port­ment guide for aris­toc­racy and it has been reprinted by Bri­tish Li­brary Pub­lish­ing.

Top tips in­clude: “Never point your gun at your fel­lows­ports­men (even in jest) with­out pre­vi­ously con­sult­ing the wishes of your host”; “avoid the vul­gar and ob­jec­tion­able habit of con­vers­ing with your fel­low trav­ellers” and “be on your guard when asked a civil ques­tion; if you can­not an­swer rudely do not re­ply at all.”

MAIN IM­AGE: Where it all started: Nat­u­ral Re­treats, Rich­mond. From left to right: The lodge site at South Fork, Idaho; founder and MD Matt Spence and ther new Nat­u­ral Re­treats site at John O’Groats in Scot­land. The lux­ury eco-lodge brand which be­gan in...

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