Floating restaurant to extend sunset cruises after £2,500 grant

The prow of the Lady Florence, a river cruise restaurant which sails out of Orford

Owners of the floating restaurant the Lady Florence are looking forward to taking it out for sunset cruises thanks to a LEP grant - Credit: River Cruise Restaurants

A river cruise restaurant has been buoyed by a grant which will help it extend its sailing season.

The Lady Florence — which takes dining guests on a spectacular voyage taking in Suffolk’s most stunning coastal habitats — has been awarded a £2,500 Visitor Economy Grant grant to help it buy new marine radar and chart-plotting equipment which will enable it to sail late into the evening.

Co-owner Kris Ambury — who runs the business with partner Craig — said the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) grant boost means that the business will be able to make up for lost time once lockdown restrictions ease.

Breakfast is available during two-hour trips across the year, while customers booking in for lunch, supper or dinner can enjoy a three-hour cruise on the boat, which sails from Orford.

Ipswich-based sister vessel the Allen Gardiner offers dining all year round, warmed by a coal fire in the winter months.

“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,” said Mr Ambury.

“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.”

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The Lady Florence is a 50ft-long wooden ship built as a supply boat for the Admiralty during the Second World War. It has been a popular sight along the Ore and Alde Rivers for the last 30 years.

Covid-19 forced owner River Cruise Restaurants out of operation for most of last year but the ship would normally take diners along 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.

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.

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.

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 growthhub@newanglia.co.uk