In 1989, two brave souls, a professional Swiss Lausanne Hotel School hotelier and Cordon Bleau Chef, moved from the comfort of their Johannesburg lives to start a new life in the rustic Natal Midlands. They had discovered the derelict Fern Hill farm in their quest to relocate their family out of the rush of city life. It was love at first sight.
What most people saw as condemned buildings and a waste of space, they saw as new possibilities and envisaged a happy space for their family to grow up in.
With many calling them crazy (including their parents) for buying the place and very few companies in the Howick region willing to help them rebuild, they both launched into rebuilding what they could by themselves with a small team they hired off the streets.
For 9 months they worked tirelessly on the buildings they could salvage, teaching themselves new skills as they went and not being able to afford to raze it to the ground and rebuild from scratch (as so many had advised). Buildings were built up brick by brick, foundations were underpinned by hand, roofs were laid with no safety equipment to assist them, gardens were created where once only veld, bugweed and blackjacks existed.
Blood, sweat and literal tears dragged Fern Hill from the brink of extinction.
On the 1st of May 1990, Gion and Karen Poltera and their small team managed to open Fern Hill's doors again. They weren't ready, but they had run out of money and needed to earn again. The same small team who learnt how to build, then had to then learn how to waiter, chef, housekeep, bar-tend and welcome the first of their guests. The hotel fast became a roaring success. The once unskilled employees became highly skilled and an asset to the company.
The hotel grew and developed over the years, fast adapting to the needs of society and the economy: hotel, conference centre, wedding venue and training college. In keeping with their roots of the business, Gion and Karen sponsored unskilled youth through their training college every year to give back to society. Their strong sense of social responsibility also shown in the millions they raised for charities and NGOs over the last 30 years.
It feels fitting that today, exactly 30 years later, Fern Hill is birthing a new division of itself to survive. That Fern Hill will have to remodel and reshape it's very way of existing. Gion and Karen's core ethos of hard work, creativity, learning new skills, thinking on your feet and service excellence leads us to soldier on in these extremely difficult times.
News supplied by Fern Hill Hotel.