Ruud Jansen Venneboer – East Devon Excellence
All content and photos by Joff Alexander-Frye
Have you heard Simon Sinek’s saying, “If you want to be a good leader, be the last to speak?”. I have found it to be an empowering statement for the more naturally introverted of us. Not that he is talking about introversion. Rather, he is talking about how, to be a good leader. One must listen, stay open to fresh ideas and withhold the sometimes-powerful desire to talk and be heard. Sinek claims that, should one embrace this practise, they stand the best possible chance of being respected, learning new things and working with satisfied people.
Ruud Jansen Venneboer, owner of Mazzard Farm Holiday Cottages and founder of East Devon Excellence, has a quiet confidence about him and embodies this philosophy wonderfully. Previously working as an International Employee Engagement Consultant and a specialist in high-end business support, he is clearly well-used to listening and understanding before talking. A refreshing characteristic to have in such a noisy world.
Originally from Zutphen in the eastern Gelderland region of the Netherlands, Ruud moved to the UK in 1993 and to Devon in 2007, with the specific intent of carving out a new lifestyle and with the plan to set up a holiday cottage business. They had spent over two years searching around Dorset and Devon for the perfect property to convert into holiday cottages and, sadly, found that Dorset was either unaffordable nearer the coast or didn’t suit the vision and criteria which they had set out when they looked inland. And so it was that they stumbled across Mazzard Farm in East Hill (near Ottery St Mary) and, instantly, fell in love with it.
They spent a year getting the correct planning permissions and making their renovations before opening properly in July 2008. At this early stage of Ruud’s foray into Devon hospitality, he started doing what came naturally to him and making meaningful connections with other business owners in the area. In doing so, he realised that East Devon wasn’t seeming to be represented be a dedicated Destination Management Organisation (DMO). Somewhat caught between Exeter and Dorset, he felt that there was a need for an organisation that could champion the cause of East Devon businesses, particularly in the hospitality and leisure industries. And so, the embryonic form of what has now become East Devon Excellence was born.
“East Devon had never really been marketed as a specific destination. Whereas the English Riviera, Dartmoor and Exeter all had their own DMOs, East Devon sort of fell through the cracks. So, a few of us grouped together and formed East Devon Excellence – an organisation committed to celebrating and promoting the amazing places to stay, visit and eat in the stunning surroundings of East Devon.”
Initially, energy was focused on building a website, creating social media pages and starting to reach out into the networks of the businesses concerned to increase membership. That said, there has always been a focus on quality of member businesses, rather than quantity. I suppose there is no point calling something excellent if it isn’t!
“We then went about creating a beautiful map which could be used by visitors to the area to find locations of member businesses. I’ve heard some people say that ‘print is dead’ but it simply isn’t true, particularly for tourists who LOVE a map! Yes, visitors to Devon will use the many digital platforms at the end of their finger-tips to find ideas and book tickets to events or activities. But almost without fail, visitors to our holiday cottages leave behind maps and leaflets that they have picked up on their travels during their stay. So, we decided to make our own, but to make it different – with a calmer, less aggressive design. Something that portrayed the beautiful natural surroundings (including two Areas of Natural Beauty or AONBs) and the quaint towns and villages of East Devon. We’re really proud of what we’ve created and, importantly, guests love it too!”
So, what makes East Devon so excellent then? A fair enough question for someone to ask. When I posed it to Ruud, he almost leapt off of his stool with passion and vigour, saying,
“What isn’t excellent about it? You have two AONBs, the Jurassic Coast, the very best of city life and country living, some of the most amazing food and drink, a growing economy and so much more. To put it bluntly, we live in the place where others come to get away. That has to say something about how special our location and surroundings are. Whether from Bristol, Birmingham, Cornwall or London we are never more than about three hours’ drive from most of the key cities in the South of England. With almost twenty-five million people living within a three-hour driving radius of East Devon, we have a captive audience who have a high level of accessibility to us. That makes us a really attractive destination for people looking to get away for a country break.”
Now with a strong membership-base, East Devon Excellence is well placed to push the cause of their much-loved area forward moving into 2019. With a big push in 2019 to market member organisations, harness the energy of their combined skills and networks and share knowledge and insight, I see no reason why this year can’t be their best yet.
And with members including Higher Wiscombe, Deer Park Country House, Larkbeare Grange, Jack in the Green and The Donkey Sanctuary, East Devon excellence really does personify the ethos that “alone we are strong, but together we are stronger’.
I, for one, am a huge fan of East Devon and encourage you to check out East Devon Excellence’s website to find out more about East Devon: a gem in the crown of the South West and a stunning and unique part of the lovely area that we live in.
To keep up to date with East Devon Excellence, follow @EastDevonExcell on Twitter or to find out more about Mazzard Farm, visit their website.