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Accommodation That Connects

Mar 14, 2024
Article by Claire Van Ryn

Allow me to set the scene. A large table is loaded with food, conversation humming around its fringes where pairs of legs are folded beneath. There is laughter, the clink of glasses and cutlery on plates. “Pass the taties!” someone yells, and the soft strains of background music are only rarely heard for the rolling conversation. The energy of the room is palpable, and wonderful. Not measured for the quality of the steak and pinot, but for the merry mingling of the people.

It was a desire to cultivate these kinds of interactions that motivated Margaret and Martin Dingemanse to establish their award-winning accommodation Dales of Derby, which accommodates up to 24 people at a time and includes an enormous table for communal meals.

“One of our dreams and specific instructions to our architect was to have a long table with a cosy space perfect for throwing a banquet,” Margaret explains.

“I just love having us all together. The kids love helping to prepare food, and there’s so much to be said for building friendships and having deep and meaningful chats, or a very loud heap of banter over a meal.”

Countless studies have confirmed the benefits of shared meal times, including healthier eating habits and better mental health outcomes. One study by the University of Oxford confirmed that the more we eat with other people, the more likely we are to feel happy and satisfied with our lives (Breaking Bread: the Functions of Social Eating, 2017).

In his book From Tablet to Table, Leonard Sweet connects meal-sharing with developing understanding and compassion for others.

“As we sit and eat together, we don’t just pass food around; fellow diners pass bits of themselves back and forth as well, exchanging tales as well as condiments. What’s the mortar to build community? The grout of grace that’s ladled out at mealtime.”

Now, Martin and Margaret knew all this anecdotally, from the joy of their own family mealtimes with three children, and a heart for hospitality that sees neighbours, after-church lunches and extended family crowds joining them for simple, no-stress meals. They also saw the trends away from the tradition, and wanted to entrench it in their accommodation offering.

The Dales sits on the banks of the Ringarooma River in the little township of Derby, made internationally famous for its world-class mountain bike trails. The accommodation is a series of pods connected by a covered walkway, incorporating four double rooms, two bunk rooms, a wet room, secure bike storage and a spacious dining-cum-living-cum-kitchen area. Between the accommodation and the river is a swathe of grass perfect for picnics or pitching tents if there are even more bodies staying.

What kind of groups have made use of the communal advantages of the Dales? Family groups. Mountain biking enthusiasts. Workplaces wanting to demonstrate how much they value their employees. Friend groups, with and without their kids in tow. Groups of people with a special interest they want time to focus on, such as art or bushwalking or history. Girls weekends. Dads and lads getaways. The options are only limited by the imagination.

“We hope it’s a blessing for guests – the reconnection of people,” Margaret says. “We want the Dales to create conversation and a culture of connection and re-connection.”

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