SpaFest 2023: event highlights and top takeaways

European Spa reports from this year’s SpaFest, where the programme focussed on people, sustainability and health
[Photography by Paul Collier]


By Wendy Golledge

13 October 2023

Gathered once again in Cornwall’s Gwel an Mor Resort in Portreath, SpaFest 2023 drew together senior spa professionals and wellness leaders.

In a return to the original, smaller event, founder Amanda Winwood led a programme focused on people, sustainability and health for 65 attendees.

Connections were made through workshops and open discussion, and the emphasis was on the wellbeing industry working together to create a force for good.

Resilience and leadership

Jamie Edwards ran a ‘regroup and reset’ bootcamp. The wellness leadership day included a ‘find your leadership voice’ workshop, followed by a mindful forest walk and sea soul healing session.

“My learnings from SpaFest is that the people who need to be in the room, will be in the room. It’s a timing thing,” he says.

“By working on YOU and filling you’re cup again, you’ll be able invest more of you into work.”

Standing in your light

Keynote Kay Pennington, UK spa leader and multi-site wellness manager of Aqua Sana spas, talked about standing in her light – the five chapters in mental health, resilience and leadership.

“We often go to industry events and talk about our operations, but we don’t focus on ourselves,” she says. “SpaFest encouraged me to ask who am I?

“We get so immersed in what we do, we don’t stop to think and reflect. My post SpaFest plan is for more self reflection.”

From left: Fran Hayter, SpaFest founder Amanda Winwood and Kay Pennington on stage at SpaFest 2023

Learnings and wellbeing ceremonies at SpaFest 2023

Educational sessions included a nutritional workshop on the microbiome with Dr Neil Carpenter, and Chris Hines MBE, co-founder of Surfers Against Sewage, led a session entitled ‘stand in your power and understand your impact’.

An interview with Sue Harmsworth MBE covered the role of integrative wellness in spas.

Wellbeing workshops included a vibrational energy and sound healing ceremony with the ‘Gong Whisperer’, Jill Russell. There was also a Blue Health sea immersion experience with Lizzi Larbalestier, Kari Herbert, Pippa Best and Avril Greenaway at Portreath Beach.

“Every action counts, not just in business but also as human beings who have a life outside of work. If you don’t look after yourself, you won’t be as effective as you could be in business."

Amanda Winwood

Founder, SpaFest and Made for Life Organics

“Even when you organise an event, you get as much out of it as you put into it.  The truth and honesty from the speakers and the principles of doing good for people, planet and health inspired me and many others,” said SpaFest and Made for Life Organics founder Amanda Winwood.

“Many delegates said they preferred the smaller numbers and the chance to have better, deeper conversations. So we will restrict 2024 number to a maximum of 80 people.

A Blue Health sea immersion experience with Lizzi Larbalestier on Portreath beach at SpaFest

“There were more workshops this year, which enabled people to pick and choose what they wanted to do. The SpaFest community grew and flourished, and some major leaders within our sector came together as a community.

“On a personal level, this year really helped both me and my husband Geoff to take a step back and reflect on what we do.”

European Spa asked delegates to share their top takeaway or stand-out memorable moment from the 2023 networking event

"Having been to SpaFest three times in a row, I have to say that this year really solidified things for me. ‘What could I do if I was guaranteed I would not fail?’ is a question I was asked and keep repeating to myself. We are often our own biggest blocks so my top takeaway is it's time I got out of my own way!”

Yvonne Ebdon

General manager, UK Spa Association

Fray Hayter, fundraiser and SpaFest co-organiser

“For me, SpaFest is always about forming genuine friendships, having proper conversations and getting to know about our industry colleagues as individuals, not job titles. No selling, no badges, just hugs!”

"I had a very open, honest and deep conversation about the regrets and guilt I have carried for some time, where I feel I "should've done more", or something "shouldn't" have happened. Having decompressed from SpaFest, I know that it is time to let go of some of the weight I have carried."

Laura Meeson

Director of spa, Premier Software

Martine O'Neill, senior spa business manager, Temple Spa

“Other than deeper connections, a love of sea swimming and gong baths, my SpaFest takeaway was meeting a hero of mine, Chris Hines MBE, one of the founders of Surfers Against Sewage.

“I’ve always admired his activism for change and listening to him made me realise my buying and life choices really do matter.

“Little things such as seeking out less plastic wrapped food, wasting less and thinking about the companies I buy from really can make a difference.”

The Stowes hosted a Ceilidh for SpaFest attendees

Pippa Best, founder, Sea Soul Blessings

“The theme that most touched me was how the healing power of time spent connecting deeply to nature can also awaken a powerful awareness within us that we have a shared responsibility to heal nature in return.

“A key theme for me was around how the industry is obsessed with what you look like externally but that puts so much pressure on everyone. Actually it’s what’s inside that’s so important. That may be your gut biome, your head or your heart. There is so much pressure to say you are not good enough.”

Dr Neil Carpenter

Managing director, NMC2

Helena Grzesk MBE, public affairs, UK Spa Association

“Spafest this year was very much about personal transformation for me, kicking off with some thought-provoking nuggets from Jamie Edwards that led me to question why am I here and who I need to be.

“For countless reasons SpaFest was a big old push of the reset button. A prompt that we are one with nature, to be still and feel the connections all around us, to let go of fear and to be authentic.

“I learned that being part of a community soothes your soul, fills your heart and feeds your mind, so spend time with positive people and find your tribe.”

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