Joining The Hurst this week has reminded me about the months I spent in a dilapidated hotel on the Pacific Coast. The Belmar is Mazatlan’s first beachfront hotel, built in the 1920s. John Wayne was a regular, but when I was there only the rooms at the front, overlooking the ocean were in use, and a handful surrounding a courtyard on the roof where I lived. From up there the city looked pale, almost powdery, through the heat-blurred air. I used to wander the building, past rooms housing mounds of furniture, their doorways giving in to gravity. The Mexican sea air rushed in the broken windows, puffing down the long corridors, exploring, owning. These were spaces, filled with the energy of abandonment, their only chance of a voice the feelings they might inspire within those who looked on. With my storyteller’s love of the past, I would simply walk and breathe. The air’s foggy texture of dust and sun-baked wood came strong, and beyond the ocean I heard music, coming from the once famous ballroom, the ghost shuffle of the boa constrictors that had been kept in the hotel as pest control.
Now, I stand within The Hurst – a building resuscitated, awaiting its future. This is a space that has been given a second chance. Here, the mounds of furniture are being deconstructed, each piece re-homed. John Osborne’s bookshelves, filled with a lifetime of secrets, are ready to serve others. New items merge past with present, and all around the trees watch and murmur as the wind passes through.
We are counting down to the staff meeting in a week, and the building’s first courses in January. There have been parking spaces stolen, jam – dating back to the previous century – discovered in the kitchen, escaping hamsters, lessons in how to blow your nose, safety helmets worn – and when one can’t be found, a particularly fetching urchin’s cap. We’ve found duvets ‘delivered’ in the hedge, and enough coffee has been drunk to fuel the entire demolishing and rebuilding of The Hurst, should this prove necessary.
I’ve mentioned to Natasha that having staff lunches round the table, wonderful conversation, everyone helping everyone else to bread and soup, might set a bit of a precedent. Of course, we’re testing recipes, but can’t we go on testing recipes? Unfortunately, Anna is far too capable for that. When you meet her it’s hard to imagine how anything could be more impressive than her fiery, corkscrew curls, but this isn’t the case. Perhaps because of her showstopper hair everything else about her has been forced to find an equally powerful level of expression.
While skips come and go, and the smell of tarmacking fills the air, Dan continues to inspire with his shirts, which are like the weather in Mazatlan: reliably bright, filling me with inspiration for the day. And, just when I think the moment might be about to fall flat, a drumroll sounds from one of Dan’s electronic gizmos, announcing yet another booking, one more guest to look forward to meeting.
Through all of this, Natasha weaves, enabling the team to remain both connected, and able to breathe with a sense of spaciousness, which she creates through her air of capability. She leads through compassion; has got your back, your middle, your front – and anything else you may have forgotten.
New times are ahead, but The Hurst’s roots go deep. We are safe and sure within these walls.
Assistant Centre Director, The Hurst