A well-known river cruise restaurant will be offering sunset dinner trips through picturesque Suffolk after being awarded funding to help it respond to the pandemic.
The Lady Florence is a 50ft-long wooden National Historic ship built as a supply boat for the Admiralty during World War Two, and for over 30 years it has been a popular sight, gently winding its way along the Ore and Alde in east Suffolk.
Covid-19 forced it out of operation for most of last year, devastating its peak season, but the vessel is now hoping to expand its dining offer into the late evening after receiving a Visitor Economy Grant of just over £2,500 from New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership.
Funding for businesses in the hospitality, leisure and related sectors was introduced to support businesses affected by the outbreak of the virus. So far in Norfolk and Suffolk, the Visitor Economy Grant Scheme has awarded £154,402 to 56 projects and the Wider Economy Grant Scheme has delivered £189,177 to 72 projects.
Diners on the historic Lady Florence, originally run by the parents of co-owner Craig Ambury, are treated to stunning scenery and wildlife along the way. Cruises set out from Orford Quay and take in the entire 10-mile length of the Orford Ness conservation area, the stony banks of Shingle Street, where the river joins the North Sea, and the RSPB’s Havergate Island, famous for its avocets and other unusual wading birds.
Breakfast is available during two-hours trips across the year, while customers booking in for lunch, supper or dinner enjoy a further hour enjoying these peaceful stretches of river. The Allen Gardiner, its second river cruise restaurant, leaves from Ipswich and offers dining all year round with a cosy coal fire in the winter months.
New marine radar and chart-plotting equipment purchased with the funding will now enable the Lady Florence to sail late into the evening and extend its season when restrictions are eased.
Although people cannot currently book online, provisional bookings are being taken for later in the year as people look to mark special occasions and fun days out dining on a river following the long months of lockdown.
Kris Ambury, who runs the business with his partner Craig, says: “People say, ‘You are the first date in my diary and I’m so excited it is booked’. It’s a good feeling to be able to brighten their day and give them something to look forward to.
“The grant is massive for us because from the summer months we can offer an additional 60 trips and with a maximum of 12 people for each one, that could offer us real hope.”
He adds: “Last year we only managed to operate for a month and a half and that was very limited. As a family, we had to spend money on this radar equipment in order to recover.”
New Anglia Growth Hub Adviser Glen Moore said: “The hospitality sector has been hit really badly during the Covid-19 crisis and we know important the visitor economy is to Norfolk and Suffolk. We are delighted we can offset at least a small part of the damage with these grants, which are proving to be very popular.”
To find out how to apply for a Visitor or Wider Economy Grant, contact New Anglia Growth Hub on 0300 333 6536 or [email protected]