A NEW era has begun for Wivenhoe House, as it re-launches as the pioneering Edge Hotel School.

The Grade II listed, 18th-century country house has undergone a multi-million pound restoration and after initial trial runs with undergraduate families and honorary graduates during the ceremony season, it is now opening to paying customers.

Already firmly ensconced within its beautiful surroundings are the first intake of students, who in two years’ time will emerge with a BA Hons Degree in hotel management, with a second tranche having just completed their inductions ready to get started.

Eventually there will be three groups starting each year, meaning at any one time there will be those who are on slightly further on, with a bit more experience under their belts, able to support those who have just started.

The Edge Hotel School is the UK’s first teaching establishement of its kind based in a fully operational hotel.

It is therefore hoped it will become the traning ground for the next generation of hotel industry leaders.

To that effect some of the major names in the business are also backing it, in the form of scholarships and sponsored rooms, decorated and laid out exactly as they would for their hotels.

These include Milsoms, which runs the le Maison Talbooth, in nearby Dedham, the Hilton and leading catering group Baxter Storey.

Alan Jenkins, principal of the school, which will be run through a partnership between independent educational charity the Edge Foundation, its academic partner Kaplan and the University of Essex, says it will give students a huge headstart within the industry. “Knowing how these major companies like things done is a real boost to them and they have been very involved in making sure the rooms are exactly how they would have them.” He adds: “They got a really good taste of things when we had the graduation ceremonies here.

“They were really put through their paces. They had some very demanding guests and it was very busy, but they really rose to the challenge,” he says.

The hotel has been completely refurbished and a modern extension added, which will bring it up to 40 rooms.

A team of 50 full-time professional staff will work alongside the students to ensure the highest standard of service.

Students, who will get close mentoring, are working on a rota scheme of 12 weeks at a time, including over the holidays when their fellow students at the main campus will go home.

Louise Gill, director of studies, says: “The hotel has to function to make it commercially viable, so you have to have students here all the time.”

“That is why they must always be here and it gets them prepared for a life in an industry that never stops.”

The students will be involved in putting on functions, as well as looking after paying guests.

The hotel’s first wedding is set to take place next month.