"Hi Graham, I Attended your perl class in 1999 and I still use your training notes as a reference. It was an excellent course and in those days you used SUN IPX type clients in the training class from what I remember. I have never looked back. I am glad you are still going strong."
It's good - REALLY good - to hear from delegates I trained many years ago. Well House Consultants was formed in 1995, and prior to 2000, our courses were marketed and hosted by First Alternative of (in those days) Harwell in Oxfordshire. Many good contacts were may, and a wide range of delegates learned Perl and Java. Messages such as as that from NK - inviting me to connect on Linkedin - are heartwarming. They put me back in contact with delegates who I had no way of contacting after August 2000, and they tell show me just how much influence a course can have. It's not just about helping people forward for a week, a month or a year - it's about helping them forward for a whole career.
By mid 2000, I wasn't presenting any First Alternative courses any more. Perl was becoming a widespread tool of choice on PCs and servers running Windows too, and Well House courses, still presented at Harwell, had become almost full time job. I supposed it was inevitable that First Alternative and Well House would each go their own ways, and Lisa and I did
have a backup plan as it's unwise to rely on a single contract to run a business, but never the less we were shocked at the sudden and heartless way that the relationship was ended. Lisa and I sat in the car and I said "Well - we've discussed what we would do if Mick walked under a bus. In effect, he's done so ..."
We had (we still have!) a home with a room that was great for training small groups of delegates. We knew a few
of the delegates, and a handful of the booking contacts too. And we invested in a fleet of laptops, a fast duplexing printer, a projector, tables and chairs ... and opened up for courses off our own bat. The booking contacts we had were good to us, transferring their future delegates onto our new courses ("it's the same product, Graham - just a different supply train"). The courses were niche, and we had a good market. We invoiced on course completion, and a training course doesn't have a long support expectation once its completed, so people were happy to buy from a small company without worrying about how long we would be around. Which is rather interesting, as we're still very much around, when so many other names have changed or gone.
From 2000 to 2006, we trained from home. Tcl and PHP courses were added to our repertoir, and we got into a steady and regular routine. A bi-annual newsletter - "Of Course" started out as 16 pages of news and adverts for our course and grew to 24 pages. On two or three weeks a month, our house was filled with delegates - relaxing in our lounge, eating in our dining room, and sharing my office / the library - sometimes long into the evening. Other weeks I would be away on customer sites, driving with the laptops ("classroom in a box") as far afield as the north od Scotland or the south of Germany, or as close as Swindon or Yeovil.
Some delegates were local, but most travelled to the courses - travelling too far to commute daily, and they stayed at local B&Bs. From our home at 404 The Spa, there was Springfield, there was The Spa B&B, there was the Old Manor, the Town House and the Regency Hotel just on the one street. But slowly the owners moved on from the very tough B∓B business. Slowly standards slipped at one or two of them. And slowly delegates required more of where they stayed - en-suite with a decent sized shower, payment by credit card, internet access, healthy breakfast, late checkin facilities which, alas, weren't provided by the remaining B&Bs who were set up much more for leisure guests.
We took the plunge in 2006 - when there were only 2 B&Bs left, we bought out the Old Manor, completely refurbished it, split and joined rooms to make it 100% ensuite and business, and re-opened it as delegate accommodation. HQ and home remain at 404, The Spa. "Well House Manor"i
, as we christened it, is at 48 Spa Road, and that's now our training centre too. The purchase, conversion and opening was done without a gap in training; we literally finished a course one day at 404, and started the next morning at 48!
So what's happened in the last 7 years?
We've added C and C++, Ruby and Lua to the languages that we teach. And we teach some Linux, MySQL, and web server configuration too. We've dropped
Java; I can remember it, I can help others convert away from it, but I'm no longer up to date enough to give you a course. Rails (Ruby) and Django (Python) framework introductions have been added to our courses, and we now routinely offer an extra leadin day on the start of courses ("Learning to program in") for delegates who have never programmed before.
Our hotel rooms are designed for IT users and business visitors. And such visitors, it turns our, come to many other Melksham businesses too. So rooms that we anticipated being used just for delegates have also been sought by other looking purely for an appropriate hotel. Fair enough, and it would have been rather silly to say "no" - so we find ourselves as accidental hoteliers. I've told the full story of that [elsewhere
]. We now have an excellent team of staff - not only doing the day to day hotel work (with "Customer care" being no. 1 priority), but also managing themselves and the day to day operations. We had some early experiences - the first years - with the hotel that's helped us realise just how blessed we are with this team. And now we open around 110 hours per week - quite a contrast to the conventional 40 hours!
I still travel to give courses - but laptops have become lighter, most customers have their own data projector, and I've been able to drop long distance driving for the most part in favour of going by train. I'm writing this article for my blog - now over 4000 articles old - on the 18:15 from Machester (where I've been training since Monday) to London (where I start at 09:30 tomorrow). And this travel by train, and staying in hotels, puts me very much in similar shoes to our customers - I can see the issues they have in travelling to and from Melksham, and I stay in hotels and see many of them from the customer's viewpoint. The result? I've got to know quite a bit about trains - to the extent that I'm involved in the campaign for local rail and public transport involvement. And I've seen and learned so much about hotels that we've got such confidence in ours that we put in for - and appeared on the Channel 4 show "Four in a Bed", coming out with glowing feedback ... and yet more good friends.
I don't know what the next few years will bring. We're grandparents. Daughter gets married in the summer. We've got a cat and dogs in the empty nest now (I wouldn't have believed that even 5 years ago) and it seems that every waking minute is still filled with fun and adventure - from training, to the challenges of new technology, from walking with dogs to hotel admin, from blogging on a daily basis to helping start the Museum for Melksham.
Watch this space ... or at least come back every few months. And if you are
one of those delegates I've training in the last 20 years, do come and stay. We'll offer you delegate rates, an enthusiastic welcome, and we'll still talk geek late into the evening given just a third of a chance. (written 2013-02-20, updated 2013-02-21)
Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articlesM350 - Well House Manor - project diary 
2006 - Making business a pleasure - (2006-01-01) 
Hotel novelties - (2006-01-05) 
Well House Manor - (2006-01-21) 
Sympathetic development - (2006-04-09) 
Planning a hotel refurb - an example of a Gant chart in PHP - (2006-05-14) 
Residential - (2006-05-15) 
The eye - (2006-05-31) 
We can offer a room, but we can't operate on a dog - (2006-06-05) 
Seeing the bricks for the trees - (2006-06-11) 
Naming Rooms - (2006-06-24) 
Above the parapit, Well House Manor - (2006-07-28) 
Hotel, Melksham, Wiltshire - (2006-08-24) 
Fitting our bathrooms - (2006-09-04) 
From the Manor written - (2006-09-07) 
4 weeks to go - (2006-09-11) 
Coming together. - (2006-09-29) 
Open - (2006-10-09) 
Where quality costs less - (2006-10-15) 
Brand new hotel and training centre, Melksham - (2006-10-22) 
Before and After - Well House Manor - (2006-11-18) 
A tale of a wee wall - (2006-11-19) 
Snagging - (2006-11-24) 
Rail trouble forced me to buy hotel - (2007-02-07) 
Telling a story in different ways - (2007-02-20) 
Three big events - TWSW, Business of the year and the police - (2007-03-03) 
A lot has happened in a year - (2007-05-31) 
Well House Manor Hotel - on plan for 2009 business guests - (2009-01-03) 
Well House Manor - the next six years - (2010-10-24) 
The changing Hotel and Bed and Breakfast business in Melksham - (2012-01-18) 
Keeping our hotel looking like new, by using our gained experience - (2012-03-09) 
The Accidental Hotelier - (2012-08-24) 
National TV - Melksham - 9th January 2013, Pre-alert. - (2012-12-27) 
Expecting nothing, but prepared for anything - (2013-01-05) 
A year of changes for Lisa and Graham Ellis, and Well House - (2017-05-27)G206 - Well House Consultants - Our training centre 
Drive the drive - (2004-09-18) 
Spring is in the air - (2005-03-24) 
Out of the norm. - (2005-09-23) 
JIT or JAU - (2006-02-27) 
Training Centre Pictures - (2006-03-09) 
Training information - England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland - (2007-05-22) 
Fancy going to Glastonbury? - (2007-06-22) 
Weeding out old phone numbers - (2009-04-11) 
Faster network, but not faster browsing until ... - (2009-12-14) 
Open Source Training Centre and Courses for 2010 - (2009-12-16) 
One number for Well House - 01225 708225 - (2010-03-04) 
Journey times to Melksham, Wiltshire - (2010-08-17) 
Our facilities to support Well House Consultants Courses - (2010-09-02) 
Finding all matches to a pattern in Perl regular expressions - (2011-12-09)
Some other Articles
Red, yellow, green or pink dog? Yellow Dog ProjectUpcoming courses and availabiityCosta Coffee in Melksham - is it a good idea?Web Frameworks - nested templatesA course is not just for a year - its for a careerFrom SalfordReally Simple RailsClear, concise examples - Ruby classes and objects.Reading and checking user inputs - first lessons - RubyWhich database should I use? MySQL v SQLite