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Former Library Restaurant chef launches new business

PUBLISHED: 11:24 26 October 2019 | UPDATED: 11:39 26 October 2019

Nigel Raffles in the kitchen at The Library. Pic: Simon Finlay Photography

Nigel Raffles in the kitchen at The Library. Pic: Simon Finlay Photography

A Norwich chef who has battled anxiety has launched a new business to help men with mental health issues.

Nigel Raffles. Pic: ArchantNigel Raffles. Pic: Archant

It is difficult to imagine outgoing chef Nigel Raffles would be tortured by self-doubt and anxiety.

On meeting him most people would not ever imagine he would wake up in the middle of the night with irrational fears that his restaurant was burning down or that no staff would turn up for the next day's shift.

But now Nigel - a well-known chef who until recently ran The Library restaurant in Guildhall Hill with his wife Jayne - has spoken publicly for the first time about his battle with his inner demons.

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Nigel and wife Jayne at the Library restaurant which they ran for 10 years until recently closing. Pic: Simon Finlay Photography.Nigel and wife Jayne at the Library restaurant which they ran for 10 years until recently closing. Pic: Simon Finlay Photography.

And now his struggles have prompted him to launch new business Rude Health Retreats which offers a sanctuary for men feeling stressed and anxious - using cooking as therapy while staying in a private luxury house.

And for Nigel, who says he is still dealing with his own mental anguish, running the new venture will help him too.

Nigel's problems began when he and Jayne, his wife of nearly 30 years, sold their restaurants. They opened St Benedicts Grill in 1991 then Pinocchio's and the Pulse cafe bar - and each one they sold to start a new business. But for Nigel, the process was really difficult.

"I was 26 when I bought my first restaurant and emotionally it was like having a child," he said. "I had invested a lot of time and effort in them and then we started selling them and it was like it was getting rid of who I was. It was like taking part of me away when my restaurants went.

Jayne and Nigel Raffles. Pic: Bob Hobbs/Archant libraryJayne and Nigel Raffles. Pic: Bob Hobbs/Archant library

"It surprised me, I started feeling anxious, I'd always had expectations since school of over-achieving, and I just started worrying irrationally.

"I'd worry there would be a fire in the restaurant, I'd worry about staff not turning up, the worries would go around and around in my head and I'd wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat, panicking over nothing. It was like the fight or flight reaction but there was nothing to run from.

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"I didn't feel I could talk about it. I felt embarrassed. I felt I had to stay strong for my family and my team. So I kept it quiet for a couple of years, I got very low at one point and just wanted some peace. I never got suicidal, not quite to that point because I'd never want to leave Jayne and my family but I can understand how some people could.

Nigel Raffles pictured in 2013. Pic: ArchantNigel Raffles pictured in 2013. Pic: Archant

"It's a cliche, I know, but many men don't like to show emotions, we don't have as many close friends as women. Women seem to be able to talk about anything to their friends, we don't. I felt it showed weakness."

Finally, about a year ago, Nigel came clean to Jayne and they began looking for help for him.

"I wanted ways to cope," he said. "But you can't see the doctor easily unless you are suicidal and they just want to give you drugs. I wanted some tools to be able to calm myself down, to manage it. Ultimately I felt my life was in my own hands and you have to look forward to a new future.

"I also sought counselling and that wasn't very effective, it was a nice chat but I needed something more cognitive, I wanted to know a procedure, something to calm me down and get me in the right mindset."

The luxury house where Rude Health Retreats will take place. Pic: submittedThe luxury house where Rude Health Retreats will take place. Pic: submitted

The final blow was when he and Jayne - who have two sons - put The Library restaurant business up for sale. During a period of two and a half years three buyers each pulled out. Finally after 10 years running the restaurant the couple took the sad decision to close in July.

While Jayne has successfully gone on to run the Egg Consultancy Nigel has launched Rude Health Retreats.

He aims to take a group of around eight men on a three-day or five-day retreat to a luxury house in Suffolk or in southern Italy near Naples. The idea is that there will be cooking in groups and going to markets to choose produce.

"Cooking is something you can be in control of, it's therapeutic, something to concentrate on, you have to plan so it takes your mind off things."

The luxury house where Rude Health Retreats will take place. Pic: submittedThe luxury house where Rude Health Retreats will take place. Pic: submitted

The idea is also to create a WhatsApp network group so that there is support for the men when they return. If the scheme takes off, Nigel hopes to run 12 a year and expand into retreat sessions for couples too and in other locations.

"I still have the anxiety, it's like being an alcoholic but I feel I am finally in charge of my own destiny."

Nigel Raffles can be contacted at www.rudehealthretreats.co.uk

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