Astrofarm reflections – One year on from opening
As we open our last phase of our accommodation this month Andrew and I (Sue) have been reflecting back over the roller coaster year since opening the first four beds in the Dortoir to UK astronomers coming to Astrofarm to enjoy our night skies.
Our original design and plan had been to provide 8 cabin beds in a dormitory style room for those astronomers who were up all night photographing and observing the night sky, to sleep during the daytime. Careful market research had shown that our visitors wanted great value, comfortable warm in winter sleeping accommodation with hot showers in a heated bathroom. Many are regular astro-campers but were ready for a little more comfort through the winter months. We found that lots of those keen to stay up all night would be travelling on their own as long suffering partners did not share their enthusiasm. These were our main considerations when designing and constructing the original sleeping accommodation.
We drew up plans to convert the 2 small attached greniers into the Dortoir, the large garage to a kitchen/dining/sitting room leaving us a mid-terrace 2 bed home in the middle. With bookings in late October we worked very, very long days through summer 2015. We started at 6.00 am and worked til 10.00 pm. I was still grouting the bathroom the day before our very first visitors came, not recommended for stress and energy levels.
We also had the astronomy centre to construct and the main observatory to build alongside creating the accommodation. What we really needed was cloning! We did have some fantastic help from friends and family from the UK who came out for a stargazing summer holiday in exchange for hard labour. We couldn’t have done it without them.
However, as Andrew posted more and more wonderful photos of our life here in Confolens over last summer, we received lots of enquiries from couples wishing to visit together. This led to a design amendment as we ‘gave up’ our spare bedroom and by changing doorways we were able to make a double room with an en-suite shower room.
The pressure was on with a group booking for the first weekend January meant forgetting any sort of Christmas or New Year break – and I once again found myself tiling and grouting at midnight to get finished! We opened the bookings for the double room in January of this year and have hardly had a night free. So much for market research!
Alongside these changes we were given the one off opportunity to buy the house next door so suddenly we went from 8 to 14 heads on beds and a whole new project of renovation. To be honest the new house did not need anything like the reconstruction and hard labour that we had done on the original Astrofarm build. We decorated every room, updated the kitchen and created 2 very nice shower rooms from the one very odd shaped 40-year-old bathroom. We are very pleased with the result – it is a lovely house. Lots of light, spacious rooms and we particularly like the balcony from the lounge. Here, we had our breakfasts, lunches and coffee breaks throughout the summer as we worked on the house.
We were under serious pressure yet again as we had a family booked in from the 1st of September, giving us just 10 weeks to complete all the works. Talk about 60-minute makeover – bit too close to the deadline for me. It meant we grafted 16 hour days over the UK bank holiday weekend when we were full in the main B&B part of the farm!
One of the unexpected opportunities came from local people who wanted to learn about the night sky and because of this demand we ran a couple of complete beginner courses, open evenings and telescope help sessions. We were a little overwhelmed at the success and so now we have scheduled the courses and events for each month throughout 2016 and have agreed to start a club for local residents.
We have now promised absolutely no more. We are completely exhausted, jaded and hurt everywhere. We have been here for 2 summers and only seen the inside of our local Bricomarche! Time has come to enjoy living in this wonderful part of the world. We will take long walks with the dogs, meet friends for lunch, explore our wonderful countryside and enjoy driving to the coast on a Sunday.
Asked if I would do it again I would have to say not a chance but very glad we have done it this time around. We have a lovely home, fantastic guest facilities and a wonderful opportunity to build a solid business in, what we think, is the loveliest place to live. We are here for good now – there’s only one way I am leaving Astrofarm ……