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   Inside Out - South West: Monday October 3, 2005

Hotel homophobia

Gay men
Beside the seaside - but what kind of welcome awaits?

There's nothing better than setting off for a short break down to the West Country.

But how warm is the welcome if you're a homosexual couple? Inside Out investigates hotel homophobia in the South West of England.

A frosty welcome

Matthew Hodson and his boyfriend Aruan decided to leave London behind for a friend's wedding in Somerset.

But the reception at the hotel where he and his partner were staying was less than welcoming.

Matthew recalls what happened, "The owner said to us 'we're not having you here, we're not having you under our roof'".

Matthew had booked a double room in advance.

"The chap looked around and he was like 'where's your wife?'... and I'm like 'I'm sorry, no it's me and my partner Aruan… and he was like 'no no no, not having that here not under my roof' and he just told us to get out".

It was 10.30pm on a Friday night - and the couple had no car, no room and where stranded in the middle of nowhere.

"My partner was just really upset - he was in tears, and he wanted to go home. It was difficult because it turned what should have been a really lovely weekend for everyone into something which had started off really badly," Matthew recalls.

Discrimination?

By denying Matthew a bed for the night, this hotel wasn't breaking the law.

Hotels cannot refuse guests on the grounds of race, gender or disability but it's not illegal to bar someone if they're gay.

Tintagel
The pink pound could bring huge benefits to South West tourism

In the work place gay people are protected from discrimination by law - in the rest of their lives they're not.

Alan Wardle from Stonewall explains the extent of the problem, "We've had cases of people refused by their doctors, refused insurance and accommodation".

According to South West Tourism people being refused accommodation because of their sexuality is rare, but all cases are looked into.

Robin Barker, Deputy Chief Executive of South West Tourism, says, "We would investigate... the ultimate sanction would be that we'd exclude that business from marketing activities".

Pink pound

The pink pound has always been a lucrative market for tourism.

From December 2005, gay couples will have another reason to visit the South West - to get married.

They will be able to have civil partnership ceremonies, which is clearly good news for Cornwall and its tourism business.

Many hotels and venues in the South West are keen to cash in on the power of the pink pound.

Inside Out decided to test how welcoming South West hotels really are.

On May Bank Holiday BBC journalist David Allard travelled with his boyfriend Bryn to North Devon. They booked in at Pine Lodge in Lynton.

"We were literally just over the threshold when Mrs Davies came out of the office and said you didn't tell me you'd booked a room for two men. I would have given you a twin room if I'd known," he recalls.

"I then challenged why it was an issue for her and was told 'you've got to understand we're running a business here. You should have let us know in advance so we could warn our guests'. I immediately thought what kind of people do you think we are."

David Allard says, "We felt humiliated, angry, shell-shocked, disgusted really by the reception we'd been given".

Although the Davies's didn't ask David to leave, he decided he couldn't stay at Pine Lodge - so he asked for a refund.

"Having had that experience, we then felt completely paranoid where ever we went... quite frankly we couldn't wait to get home".

He wrote to Visit Britain the company who assesses the quality of South West accommodation, and they visited Pine Lodge to investigate the complaint.

Essentially, Mr and Mrs Davies stated that while they were certainly 'uncomfortable' with the situation, they believe that they were not rude and that they did not refuse the couple accommodation at any point.

On the contrary, their full expectation was that you were going to stay at Pine Lodge until the couple asked for a refund.

We asked Mr and Mrs Davies for an interview - they declined but told us:

"As far as we are concerned this matter has been dealt with in a robust and professional manner by the appropriate bodies and a 'line drawn under it".

So just how easy it is for a gay couple to book a double room in the South West?

We phoned 30 randomly chosen hotels and guest houses in Devon and Cornwall.

Although the majority were more than happy to take us, when given the option one declined.

South West Tourism says that it is in constant liaison with the assessment bodies and encourages them to take account of changes in visitor expectations that take place year on year.

Despite this move to better reflect the changing needs of today's society, until the law itself is changed, hotels can still exclude gay couples for being gay.

Alan Wardle of Stonewall believes that the Government needs to take action:

"The Government have the perfect opportunity to change the law by closing the loop hole in a bill that's currently going through parliament but so far they haven't indicated they will."

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Elbury Farm

Elbury Farm
Down at the farm - organic farming and conservation

Inside Out visited Elbury Farm in Devon which is trying to combine organic food production with creating new wildlife habitats.

It is now three years since we first started filming at John Kittow's Elbury in Farm in Devon.

His project involves turning a once intensively managed dairy farm into a more wildlife friendly area.

There's now an abundance of flowers in the summer hedgerows - insects like hoverflies.

There are also mammals including a splendid Roe buck.

The oaks around John's farm are full of nesting birds.

The activity on the farm never stops. Earlier in the year the National Trust which owns Elbury planted new hedge species on the mound which John has created to build up his very own Devon hedge bank.

It has been transformed into something more like the six feet high plus Devon hedges that line many of the roads around the farm.

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Recycling

Rubbish
How green is your house? Are we too lazy too recycle?

Inside Out meets a woman from the South West who recycles everything.

Now most of us make the odd trip to the bottle bank to do your bit for the planet.

But would you go as far as making your own toothpaste or bartering for your furniture?

Well, that's how one Devon family live, and very happily too. But can they convert city boy Russell Labey from his throwaway ways?

Russell is a typical consumer, "OK so I admit it, I'm a fully paid up member of the consumer society. I buy what I want, when I want, and when I've finished with it, I throw it away.

"I know I should recycle more, but frankly it's too much of a chore. Much easier to stick it in a bin and let somebody else worry about it.

"But somehow I've been talked into taking part in a challenge. I'm going to visit the greenest family in Devon to see if I can become more of a friend of the earth."

So it's a journey by train - not by petrol-guzzling car - to see Nick and Sue Whiteway, whose idea of a shopping trip is to visit their local recycling centre, which also has its own junk shop.

Recycling symbol
How many of us take the time to recycle rubbish?

Sue hasn't got a credit card and admits that she's mean.

She explains her rationale at the junk shop, "Why spend £50 on something if you can get it here for a pound. I don't like borrowing money - I would rather wait until it turns up here".

Sue is so green that she got her hi-fi in a swap for five jars of her home made chutney! Her TV was also a cast-off, and she has only once bought a new washing machine

But recycling doesn't stop there - Sue even spins her own wool on a spinning wheel.

Sue is also a firm believer in food for free, and the garden is stuffed with fruit, vegetables and herbs which go into her cooking.

Her family of four eat home made meals with produce from local organic farms and gardens. They're a thrifty lot - husband Nick makes the bread, and the soup is made from leftover vegetables.

And it's not just in the kitchen that the family are green. Sue even has a green alternative for toothpaste - she makes her own from bicarbonate and sage.

Even harmless-looking mineral water can be replaced by filtered tap.

Inside Out asks is Sue Whiteway the greenest woman in the South West, and looks at if we can all learn a few tips for keeping green?

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