Suffolk hoteliers prepare to welcome back guests

PUBLISHED: 07:30 04 July 2020

Craig and Julie Jarvis. Picture: Supplied

Craig and Julie Jarvis. Picture: Supplied


Gina Long meets Craig and Julie Jarvis, owners of Ravenwood Hall Hotel in Suffolk.

As social distancing measures begin to ease, Craig and Julie Jarvis, owners of Ravenwood Hall Hotel in Suffolk, welcome being able to open from today. The family has run the hotel for 34 years and Craig has been in the hospitality industry for 45 years. He has competed in extreme challenges to raise funds for the family’s Ravenwood Children’s Trust. Prior to a life-changing motorcycle accident in 2016, Craig had raised over £350,000 with support from Julie and daughters Jessie and Molly. Here they talk to Gina Long MBE.

What’s the impact of COVID-19 on your business and how are you adapting?

C: Honestly, the effect has felt pretty devasting. Since midnight March 22, the hotel’s doors have been closed for the first time since we opened, 34 years ago. Weddings have been vastly affected, although the majority have transferred to next year, which is fantastic for happy couples, and for us. Our first phase of re-opening begins today, where the hotel’s beautiful grounds will transform into our Edible Emporium, an outside dining experience. We’ve adapted our accommodation to minimise customer-staff contact, utilising online booking and keyless entry. It’s been very daunting, but also exciting. As a team, we’ve relished in thinking “out of the box” as the rules and customer requirements have changed.

What advice can you give to our readers during Covid-19?

J: Stay safe, stay positive, be kind.

C: Be pro-active. Make the most of the time you have with family if you can. Keep a positive mindset. Crack on with a new project. Finish that ever-eluding DIY chore. Take the lessons you’ve learnt, or the promises you’ve made, into the next phase of your life with commitment.

What is your connection to East Anglia?

J: I was born and raised in East Anglia. So were my parents and my grandparents. We’re all a true Bury St Edmunds family.

C: I was born in Newmarket and moved to Bury St Edmunds in the mid-80s, working in restaurants and bars, before heading to the bright lights of Norwich to open my own bar. All these years later, I’m still here with our two businesses; Ravenwood Hall Hotel in Bury and The Wild Duck, in Norfolk.

What is your East Anglian Heaven?

J: I’ve always been more of a countryside person, and I think the friendliness of the communities that I’ve lived in are what has made me want to stay.

C: The Norfolk Broads are my unspoilt, underestimated heaven.

What is your East Anglian Hell?

J: You can’t get away with nipping to the supermarket in your scruffy gardening clothes, because you’re always going to bump into someone you know.

C: I do think that there’s an immense amount of building work and construction happening. It’s all in the name of progress and development, but I do worry that it threatens the balance of our beautiful county.

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?

J: I love the entrance way to The Abbey Gardens in Bury.

C: In Newmarket, where I was born, there’s a grave of a young boy which is shrouded in the ancient legend that I remember being told as a small boy. Legend has it, that the grave belongs to a boy who tragically hanged himself, hundreds of years ago, after losing his master’s sheep. The grave is always tended with fresh flowers, however the mourners leaving them have never been seen. Further legend has it that if the flowers are a dark colour on Derby day, a dark horse will win and vice versa. It reminds me of how much deep (and mysterious) history East Anglia has.

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?

J: The Christmas Fayre, it brings Bury and people alive. I was upset to hear that it’s been cancelled this year due to Covid-19, but it’s for the best.

C: Latitude Festival. This is a total weekend of relaxation for me and my whole family. It offers such a diverse range of music, theatre, and cuisine. It’s a great way to kick-start 
the summer.

What your specialist Mastermind subject?

J: Definitely rock music. I’m a huge Freddie Mercury fan, so I could go even more specific and just say him.

C: Wine and food. Both my 
liver and my figure can attest 
to the fact that I’m an expert in both.

What is always in your fridge?

J: Eggs from our chickens and a bar of Dairy Milk, in fact many bars of Dairy Milk have been eaten in lockdown!

C: I love to focus on local, quality produce and use them in my experiments with smoking and preserving. Currently, I’ve got a whole salmon sat in the fridge ready for a lazy Sunday.

What’s your simple philosophy of life?

J: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

C: Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain. This philosophy has kept me strong since my motorcycle accident in 2016 and has helped to change my outlook on life completely. As has the Covid-19 pandemic.

What’s your favourite film?

J: Bohemian Rhapsody. My daughter and I went to see it five times.

C: Love Actually. When Julie and I got married, I recreated the wedding scene (from the part with the hidden musicians popping up in the church pews) as a surprise, in the tiny church of Little Saxham.

What was your first job?

J: Working for Greene King in Bury St Edmunds, aged 17. I started in a temporary position but ended up staying for 22 years.

C: I was a waiter at a Greek restaurant called Onassis in Newmarket when I was 15. The owner was an amazing self-taught chef who had a fantastic knowledge of rural Greek food. I then began my training in Holland and the vineyards in France, opening my first venue in 1982 called Swifts, a wine bar 
in Norwich.

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What is your most treasured possession?

J: A beautiful ring, handed down from my great-grandma that 
I treasure.

C: Both daughters, of course. Also, I found a turtle shell whilst running an ultra-marathon through the Amazon jungle in 2011. The shell was covered in claw marks from a jaguar, hinting at how the animal met its untimely end. I ran with it in my rucksack for seven days in the intense humidity, which was quite a burden considering I’d gone to ridiculous lengths to lighten my load (I cut my toothbrush in half to save 
on weight).

What is your biggest indulgence?

J: Chocolate, a long bubble bath and once a year having an afternoon tea at the Ritz.

C: British classic motorcycles – truly British engineering at 
its best.

What’s your worst character trait?

J: I am a bit of a neat freak, and Craig isn’t…

C: Single-mindedness. Not a good trait when trying to reach a truce or compromise with Julie.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

J: Thailand. Craig and I had an unforgettable holiday there many years ago…somewhere I would like to take my daughter.

C: Our beach house in Norfolk. I can spend hours just enjoying the solitude or the sound of the waves. The whole area is an amazing source of quality, local produce, such as fresh lobsters straight from Brancaster quay. I love roaming the beach once the tide has gone out for cockles, or taking the dogs for a long, 
salty walk.

Best day of your life?

J: When my daughter Molly 
was born.

C: Of course the same, and the day my daughter Jessie was born. Getting around the Aintree Grand National racecourse in one piece. Running with the Olympic torch in Southwold is also high on 
the list.

What’s your favourite breakfast?

J: Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.

C: Smoked kippers. I’m working on smoking my own, but I haven’t perfected them yet.

What’s your favourite tipple?

J: A glass of fizz is always a special treat.

C: A nice, cold bottle of Chevalier Montrachet.

What’s your earliest memory?

J: My father buying a new car. One day, on a trip to Felixstowe, my brothers and I discovered a hole in the floor hidden under the carpet! I remember watching the road go past under the car.

C: A beautiful black horse once escaped from its paddock and ended up in our front garden. I remember it rearing up and terrifying my Grandmother, who was babysitting my brother and I at the time.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?

J: I’m an avid, amateur tree surgeon. A dab hand with a chainsaw.

C: When I was younger, I detested any form of sport. At school, I went to great lengths to escape any involvement and it was not until my late 30s that I started to get involved in extreme sports.

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

J: ‘Craig has been in a terrible accident...’

C: That, due to the extensive physical injuries I sustained in my accident, my chances of getting back to the extreme challenges I do to fundraise, were virtually non-existent. But hey, I’ll accept that challenge.

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else?

J: I love Bury St Edmunds. I have my family and a wonderful set of friends, and I couldn’t ask for more.

C: We live in a close-knit village near Bury St Edmunds. It has an amazing community spirit, which I think embodies everything great about East Anglia. Bury also has a great selection of independent shops, restaurants and 
small businesses.

What do you want to tell our readers about most?

J: The change that lockdown has made to our routines, both temporary and permanent, has been absolutely life-changing. It would be a great waste if in two to three months’ time we had all resumed back to our pre-lockdown lives without some lessons being learnt. This could be simply having the time to enjoy being at home or appreciating how beautiful the outdoors can be. Sounds a little idealist, but what the hell, life is too precious!

C: We are so very grateful for the support we’ve had from suppliers, staff, friends and family. We can’t wait to open Ravenwood’s doors again today. This feels like the beginning of a new chapter in our history, and I think lockdown has really shown people the importance of engaging with local businesses. For information go to Instagram: ravenwood_hall

Are you or your business doing something special during Covid-19 times? Email or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1 Instagram: ginalongmbe

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