Indie Oxford Interview: The Oxford Yurt
This week we catch up with Sarah Lay, founder of The Oxford Yurt, who talks delicious food, amazing entertainment and tells us what makes her business so special!
Tell us about yourself & why you set up The Oxford Yurt
I am a trained nutritionist and have a passion for sustainable and ecologically sound living. Yurts were a mystery to me, until I came across a local yurt “community” while working with the vulnerable in our society. I hired a yurt to celebrate my birthday some years ago, and have been hooked ever since. Thus, all the ingredients needed (hospitality, nutrition and sustainability) have joined to become The Oxford Yurt!
What makes The Oxford Yurt unique?
I believe we have created the perfect compromise between the concept of “Glamping” and living “off-grid”. Though, in essence, we are located in just a muddy field, years of inspired and imaginative “gardening” has meant our yurts are now set in 3 acres of gloriously natural landscape. The flora and fauna are a sight to behold! We can therefore offer our guests both luxurious showers and muddy feet (but only in the rain!).
Who comes to stay at The Oxford Yurt?
The intention at the outset was to cater purely for Hen Parties. Hence the emphasis on luxury showers and toilets, lots of Fancy Dress, bouquets of flowers and nutritious food. These parties take place at the weekend. Midweek, we have hosted numerous Company Awaydays/ Retreats, adapting our usual Hen packages accordingly. Given the beautiful surroundings, we are now even considering hosting Weddings!
What advice would you give to anyone organising a hen do or special celebration?
Having 10 years of experience of running the site, I now know what works best, especially as we have to take into account our unpredictable English weather. People tend to want to pack too much entertainment into their stay, yet the beauty of The Oxford Yurt site lends towards relaxation, as well as partying. Sitting and chatting around a campfire or cooking your breakfast in one of our unique and fun cabins, connecting with each other and Nature. That said, we do know how to arrange the perfect entertainment packages!
How do you ensure your guests have a carefree and relaxing stay?
Friendly staff are onsite all weekend for help with campfires and woodburners and any other particular needs. We provide all those creature comforts that make such a difference, and pride ourselves on giving everyone that personal touch, whether it is a hot water bottle for a chilly night, luxury toilets and hot showers to refresh and even though we are off grid, each of our venues has mobile charging!
What style of food do you create for guests?
We believe that great food is at the heart of every good celebration, so it is an important aspect for our guests. We have a quirky 1970s’s catering caravan, so everything is cooked from scratch on site. In keeping with the ethos of the site, we work with nature and our surroundings, cooking flavourful vegetarian food, using sustainable produce, grown only metres from us at Smart Greens, and herbs from our on-site kitchen garden. Our menus are ever changing and we cater for vegans and all special dietary requirements.
What kind of entertainment do you arrange for groups staying on site?
We have sourced skilled, fun providers that work hard to give you a high quality, memorable experience. These include, Artist workshops such as flower crowns and life drawing; pampering with yoga sessions and massages; or for the more energetic, we offer Bollywood and drumming classes. Cocktail classes, wine tasting, musicians and silent disco are on offer for the evenings as is our personalised cinema in your yurt!
Which part of running your business do you enjoy the most?
A difficult question, since I am involved in all aspects of running the business. Being creative, planning the site, a new grassy path, upcycling, a new shelter with a view (of the wonderful Uffington White Horse),or finding vintage coats or hats for our Fancy Dress collection. Of course, I particularly enjoy the cooking but, I must admit, hearing the sound of our guests laughing till late in the evening round the campfires takes some beating!
What are your plans for 2019?
Last year’s amazing summer was such a treat for outdoor hospitality, that we can only hope for more of the same this year. There are always improvements that can be made on the site, and these will be done during the long season. But, most excitingly, we have plans to expand by opening another site abroad, offering similar hospitality, but in a hotter climate. Watch this space!
Lastly, which are your favourite independent businesses in Oxford?
“Smart Greens”, who are situated right on our doorstep, provide us with beautifully fresh vegetable and herbs. “Oxford Alterations“, who teach and demonstrate how to create clothes from all sorts of materials. “Barefoot Bakery” produce lovely bespoke cakes for all occasions. ‘Logs Unlimited” provide us with seasoned logs, bark chippings and upcycled furniture. Finally, “Farmer Gow’s”, also on our doorstep, is an educational working farm for children and adults young at heart.
We really love the ethos behind The Oxford Yurt and what Sarah is trying to do – if you’re after a unique venue for a hen do or another special occasion, definitely get in contact with them!
The pictures and talk of campfires and delicious food are also making us think of balmy summer evenings… We can hope!