REVAMPED VACANCY: Motelier Graham Lees at Yamba's Aston Motel.
REVAMPED VACANCY: Motelier Graham Lees at Yamba's Aston Motel. Belinda Scott

New lease on life at Aston Motel

"MY SECOND career evolved by retiring - and turned into a seven-days a week business," said Yamba's Graham Lees.

Sunny days in a small and lovely seaside town sound like an ideal retirement plan but for motelier Graham, there is a lot more to Yamba than surf and sand.

The owner of the pretty Aston Motel retired the first time around 12 years ago, after he sold his Sydney motor business.

He has now been a motel owner for 10 years.

He first saw Yamba on a retirement campervan trip up the coast with his wife, who grew up in the Lismore area.

"After a couple of years of retirement I could sense my mind slowing down, so we went window shopping and ended up buying a motel," Graham said.

After a hectic 30 years in the motor trade and 50 years of living on Sydney's northern beaches, he said he had never imagined living anywhere else, but now he cannot imagine returning and even finds visiting Sydney stressful.

"After we moved here it took me six months to realise there were no traffic lights at all," Graham said.

"I do work seven days a week, but it doesn't feel like I'm at work at all. I love the motel industry and meeting all the guests."

The couple have just completed a major renovation of the motel which involved stripping half the rooms right back to bare bricks and even replacing the glass window sliders.

The renovations were completed on August 31, just in time for the spring rush of visitors to Yamba, which begins in September.

"It's just like turning a page, people book for spring, for the golf and other events," Graham said.

He is deeply involved in local business and is on the six-member executive of the Yamba Chamber of Commerce.

He attended the inaugural meeting of the Yamba Tourism and Hospitality Cluster several months ago and was interested to learn of the success of the Clarence Marine Engineering Cluster, which organised specific training for its members.

He says Yamba's problems were similar and he has gone a step further, allowing North Coast TAFE to use the Aston Motel for hands-on training for hospitality students of all ages from 18 to 80.

The first classes are expected to begin this month, with a teacher and students on site for three or four days each week.

They will work on everything from making breakfasts to pool cleaning; from making beds to booking reservations; from dealing with customers to dealing with computers.

He is a little apprehensive but also excited.

"I'm not sure whether it will be an asset for me personally or not, but it will be an asset for the industry," he said.

"It's just like having apprentices in the motor trade. They are not much use to begin with, but if you don't train them you won't have any mechanics later."

On a personal level, his wife Bronnie is now working on their next 10 year plan - looking for a country cottage nearby for their retirement, when that eventuates.

And no, it will not be a B&B.


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