Talking to...Sian Jones, Devonshire Spa
Sian Jones, spa manager at The Devonshire Spa, talks to Georgia Seago about changing perceptions of an educational spa and what makes hers award-winning
The Devonshire Spa at the Devonshire Dome in Buxton won Professional Beauty’s Day Spa of the Year 2016 award in February, beating competition from the likes of Urban Retreat and Spa London. Manager Sian Jones has only been in the post since September last year, and despite already having won the award she’s always dreamed of, she has big plans to take the spa even higher.
“It’s a huge achievement for what is really an educational facility. This is the first time we’ve been recognised for what we do by the industry and I think that’s a huge thing for us,” says Jones of the award win. The spa started out around 10 years ago as a training spa and has since been developed into a fully commercial business. “We’re also here to support International Spa Management students [from the University of Derby] as part of their study time and with a mixture of paid and non-paid placements,” Jones explains.
All students are fully qualified therapists before they do any hands-on treatments on guests, but the winningcourse does get some applicants with no previous beauty experience. In these cases students are taught beauty therapy up to Level 5, and must pass rigorous trade assessments before working on guests.
Jones admits it can be a challenge to get both guests and the industry to see the spa as more than just a learning facility, mainly because of confusion about what the learners are actually doing. “They are students but they’re students of International Spa Management, not of beauty therapy. They’re fully qualified and do their management practical training away from the guests’ eyes,” says Jones. “If something’s not up to scratch we pull them out and they get additional training. No one is allowed to perform treatments that are not up to our standard,” she adds.
Jones hopes the recognition from winning Day Spa of the Year will help industry employers realise that students don’t just leave with a degree but with real experience working at an award-standard spa. “I hope this is where that link with the industry will strengthen,” she says, “because I do really know what experience they need to be managers.”
Jones and her supervisory team work hands-on with students in the spa – learners must complete compulsory shifts as part of the course. “We have 95 students on rota Tuesday to Friday, so you can imagine that would be quite a lot of bodies on shift at one time,” she says. “So, on a quieter day I’ll often split them into project work and therapy time.” Project work includes things like developing a seasonal treatment and working on a marketing plan or promotion for the spa, and in the final year, a treatment design module gives students the opportunity to create something that actually gets implemented in the spa.
The shifts are designed to be fully immersive to encompass all the roles a spa manager would have to fulfill in the real world. Students may be a shift leader, front-of-house supervisor, back-of-house supervisor, spa host or therapist on any shift. They are, says Jones, “solely responsible for the performance of their own shift; for forecasting the performance of the shift, planning for any downfalls, predicting opportunity… so it’s really bringing their business learning into effect”. Third-year students who have worked hard and particularly impressed can even end up solely supervising the spa when other students aren’t there. “Now at the end of their degree programme I wouldn’t hesitate to put them into manager roles. They’re fully operational supervisors,” she says.
Jones says one of the hardest parts of her job is balancing the needs of students and guests. “I would love to create wonderful, off-the-wall treatments but they have to fit into specific criteria that our students need for their treatment hours. That can be extremely challenging,” she says. “But if we have to make a change that is going to make sure the students are even more work-ready when they graduate, then let’s make that change and put the groundwork in. We have to keep current with industry.”
Professional Beauty’s judges said the spa exceeded the expectations they had for a university spa – exactly the kind of challenge Jones says she always faces. She still isn’t completely sure how they scooped the award with such tough competition but adds: “We get a lot of feedback that we’re very friendly; we’re quaint and personal, so I don’t know if it was that personal touch.” The award win isn’t where Jones’s ambition ends. In fact, she says the spa is currently in the delicate planning stage of big changes. “We’re looking at our product offering and development of the spa. There are some very exciting plans underway which we’re hoping will get agreed by the university so we can really start to bring the spa forward. For me it’s not right yet,” she adds.
These plans will likely incorporate the heritage of Buxton as a spa town famed for its mineral-rich water. “Our spa has a fabulous heritage and I think that’s what makes us unique in another way, so one option is to bring that back into the spa,” she says. Another goal of hers is to have the spa become a Centre of Excellence to further enhance students’ industry prospects. “I’ve worked only five-star my entire career, so I know what it’s like as spa manager to pick up a CV and think ‘I’m definitely going to interview that person because they’ve got a fantastic spa on their CV,” she explains.
The award win will surely provide a boost for the students’ CVs, but Jones thinks they may not yet be aware of just how much it will help them. “At this stage I’m not sure students fully understand the benefits of working in an award-winning spa. Once they get out into industry and start to go to different spas they will. But for us as a spa team, the academic and the commercial, it is a huge thing to actually have this as our offering to students because 15 years of work has been put into this degree, so that recognition is finally there.”
2005 Sian Jones moves to Dubai and works as a therapist for two years
2007 Devonshire Spa at the Devonshire Dome is launched
2008 Jones relocates to Mallorca as senior therapist at La Residencia Hotel
2009 Moves to London as senior therapist at The Dorchester Hotel
2011 Becomes spa manager at Rocco Forte Brown’s Hotel in London
2013 Moves to Claridge’s, London, as head of the health club and spa
2015 Begins her role as spa manager at The Devonshire Spa with the University of Derby
2016 Devonshire Spa wins Professional Beauty Day Spa of the Year 2016