Take a wander through Windermere, Ambleside or Keswick and you’ll find a plethora of holiday firms offering visitors the chance to stay in one of their rental cottages.

In a saturated market, Lakeland Retreats run by Michelle and Adam Wilkin pride themselves on their Cumbrian heritage and doing things their way. With175 properties, four offices, their own laundry and a £1.5 million turnover last year, they seem to be doing something right.
They like to provide a personal service, where guests and cottage owners can pop into one of their four offices in Keswick, Ambleside or Windermere to speak to one of the team.

“I’m old fashioned I think, but it’s important for them to be able to speak to an actual person, rather than a Chatbot,” said Michelle.

The 37-year-old was born in Ambleside and she met Adam (from Windermere) at school. By the age of 17 they were living together.

“We both left Lakes School with GCSEs and didn’t go on to further education. We just worked, we have always been grafters. My mum was a manager at Cumbrian Cottages for a long time and I worked there and Adam worked there as well,” she said.
When she was 23 she spotted a business opportunity. With two young sons she cleaned cottages on Saturdays for extra money.

“There was a gap in the market for someone to do it properly,” she said, talking about how she set up Diamond Cleaning in Ambleside. 
Adam set up his own property maintenance company (AW Property Services).

“I looked after the cleaning and Adam would look after maintenance so we had a great business,” said Michelle.

“The only thing we didn’t do was take the bookings so we started exploring how difficult it would be to start.”
On her 30th birthday she asked for a website as her present.

“Our plan was to continue running Diamond Cleaning and if we could let a few of the cottages that would be great. On a scrap piece of paper we wrote ‘50 cottages over five years’.” 
Within 18 months of creating Lakeland Retreats they amalgamated their cleaning and maintenance businesses into their new venture.

Six years on they look after 175 cottages, taking a 15 per cent commission plus VAT on all bookings and charging the owners a management fee.

They employ 20 staff including and regularly use up to 40 local sub-contractors.

They also offer linen-hire to all the owners, washing it at their own laundry in Ambleside.