Courtesy of The Raithwaite Estate Spa, N Yorks

From Therapist to Spa Manager in Five Years Hannah Swindells of Shrigley Hall tells her inspirational story…

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What made you want to work in the industry? What route did you take in?

Strange as it may seem, from being very young I always wanted to be a chef.  All throughout my education I dedicated most of my time to that career path, since starting to work at the age of 13 in a quaint farm owned Cheshire tearoom. I even went on to do further work experience at a highly reputable Cheshire restaurant.

In my teens, I was so eager to get out into the food industry and work, but it was only when I went to the prospective college ‘show arounds’ that I had a change of heart. It was a discussion with one of the beauty tutors at the college that changed my mind. I could see where a career in spa & beauty could take me, and how I could develop within an industry with great potential for progression and growth and a huge variety of different routes in.

So, I spent two years at college studying whilst working voluntary at a local salon. When I qualified I decided the salon world was not for me and looked into applying for a spa management course at university. However, I decided against this at the time, in the hope that I may be able to find progression and development within a company and be able to maintain being hands on full time in the industry.

My first spa role was at Carden Park, and it truly opened my eyes to more than I could have imagined and I loved learning about the wellness aspect of spa and how the treatments and journey the clients embarked on helped them de-stress and relax.

Then simply due to the length of time it was taking me to commute to Carden Park, I moved on to my next spa job at Shrigley Hall Hotel.

Did you always want to move into management?

Yes. Although I loved my time as a therapist and senior therapist I only saw this as a short-term requirement to gain the necessary knowledge and skillset of others that would be working in my team. I didn’t want to feel like I’d reached the peak of my career…as I knew I had so much more to offer.

Management especially in hotels opens doors to avenues you wouldn’t think of and gives a great opportunity to develop strong relationships with other departments and become part of an additional team of industry experts in their own right.  You have the ability to create change and have a voice on what looks good and how more and more success can be initiated within the spa.

Do you find there are any prejudices (good or bad) about choosing this industry as a career?

I think people have pre-conceived ideas that spa roles are glamorous and social, and it’s all about painting nails every day; which couldn’t be further from the truth.

The therapists have to go through intensive training with brand specialists to ensure when performing spa treatments, they protect their bodies from repetitive strain injuries and other issues. You can also be in a dark room for 90% off your shift so a lot of the time the therapist will be working in silence.

But it’s a career that is also incredibly rewarding in terms of job satisfaction. You can visibly see how you have improved a guest’s wellness after their treatment, and that has a massive impact on your own self-confidence and ability.

How hard/easy was your journey - give some examples of some highs and some lows...

It was hard to get into the industry at the start. Fresh from college…. all the job vacancies required at least 1 years’ experience which is impossible when you’re just trying to get your foot in the door!

I attended over 10 different job interviews where I was always declined due to another applicant having more experience, which was quite damaging to my confidence, as I didn’t know whether to give up hope.

When I attended my interview at Shrigley I received the phone call offering me the position before I’d returned home which boosted my confidence immensely. After six months, I was offered the role of senior therapist so progression and development was good as my ability was recognised without me having to ask for a promotion.

There was a period of both highs and lows when we had a restructure of the hierarchy in the spa, which left us without a manager for three months.

However, this actually gave the leisure attendant at the time and myself the perfect opportunity to showcase what we could do and prove that we were eager to learn more so that we could run the department on our own.

A year later we were without a manager again for a month or so, but we did have a new general manager in the hotel, so I had the perfect support. At the time, I knew I wasn’t quite at the stage of being able to step up to manager full time, but I was hungry for it and was able to build a great working relationship with the general manager.

During the next 18 months, he challenged me to learn more and do more and slowly increased my responsibilities so I got a taste of what a management role was like.

By far the biggest high in my career was when I was offered my spa manager contract. It was like being given confirmation that I was good enough at my job and made me feel so rewarded. The only issue now is where to go next in my career, how can I grow even more? Like I said earlier, I’m reaching for the peak and I know there’s still so much more I can do and offer in this industry and especially in the hotel I am in.

Once you became a spa manager - what did you find your biggest three challenges - and what did you do/are doing to overcome them?

The first challenge was definitely to be seen as the manager by the team. I believe it’s a challenge in itself working your way up to that point as the colleagues around you always see you as the therapist you once were.

So, when you suddenly have authority it can come as quite a shock to your peers, but it just takes time for people to adjust and I think in the end they appreciate your understanding of what they do every day – since you’ve actually been there and done it yourself.

The second challenge is having confidence in your judgement and learning from your mistakes.  You so desperately want everything you do to be a success all the time. But you will get knock backs and not everything will always work out as anticipated. So, I’ve learned not to take things to heart so much or affect my confidence in my ability. I just move forward and try something different. I do believe that in the end the mistakes will make you stronger and more knowledgeable.

The third challenge is developing a spa within a hotel to stand as a high revenue-generating department in its own right. For the first few years I was at the hotel we were just seen as some ‘beauty rooms in a leisure club’, really just a bonus or an extra for residents, day guests and members.

I strongly believe the change in hotel management was the start of us being able to change this perception. I was given the opportunity to share my ideas, have a voice and discuss the opportunities I felt we could offer. We quickly started benefitting, and that was reflected in our year on year growth.

Why do you think being part of the UKSA is important to a spa manager?

It definitely gives you an additional support system. I feel lucky to have the support and relationship with my general manager that I have, but being part of a wider network of spa experts gives me confirmation that I’m on the right track and that I’m not alone dealing with the issues and challenges that are common to many spas.

It has boosted my morale and motivation to strive for more by networking with other spa industry professionals. Spa is such a specialist industry that not everyone will fully understand and to be able to use the UKSA, for example, to provide useful documents to back up a presentation or to find a more efficient way of doing day to day tasks is a huge benefit.

What did you get out of attending your first SDA and talking to Helena on the Spa Line?


I was nervous attending my first Spa Directors Assembly. However, I couldn’t have felt more welcome!

It felt like one family coming together to discuss current industry campaigns, challenges within the spa, each individuals approach to dealing with and some great practical ‘take-always’ to go back to my own spa with

Going from being a therapist with a team around you with whom you can discuss day-to-day things, to a manager where you are alone in your thoughts a lot of the time, the SDA provided the opportunity to not feel alone and to get a sense of normality.

Talking to Helena on the spa line was also really helpful. I had so many questions as to whether there was a better way to do certain tasks and she directed me to people on the board and also sent me some great articles to read, documents that may be useful for me to keep and just listened to me which was really comforting.

She understood and took interest in how I was feeling in my role and the challenges you face working within a hotel and spent time relating her own experiences too.

Is there anything else you think it relevant and worth mentioning to inspire other spa managers or people wanting to become spa managers who might be struggling...


Always keep your voice! If you think people don’t understand don’t give up. Strive to help them understand.

If you’re within a hotel sometimes it can become disheartening when you are being compared to other departments, but have confidence in yourself and your team to know you’re doing it the right way and to spa standard.

Don’t forget the potential within spa. As managers, we can grow and develop our spas and they can become the most profitable part of a hotel if you just keep focused and keep working for more! And of course, never be afraid of asking for help or holding your hands up when you’ve made a mistake.

Written by Hannah Swindells, Spa Manager – Shrigley Hall Hotel and Spa

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Friday, 19 April 2019

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