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Floating restaurants all at sea after failing to secure government coronavirus help

PUBLISHED: 12:37 22 April 2020 | UPDATED: 14:38 22 April 2020

River Cruise Restaurants owners Craig and Kris Ambury with their Good Food 2020 award  Picture: RIVER CRUISE RESTAURANTS

River Cruise Restaurants owners Craig and Kris Ambury with their Good Food 2020 award Picture: RIVER CRUISE RESTAURANTS

River Cruise Restaurants

Worried river restaurant owners are at their wits’ end after being rejected by a government support scheme for businesses hit by the coronavirus lockdown – because they don’t qualify for business rates.

The Lady Florence floating restaurant  Picture: RIVER CRUISE RESTAURANTSThe Lady Florence floating restaurant Picture: RIVER CRUISE RESTAURANTS

Craig and Kris Ambury were on the crest of a wave after their floating restaurant business – which includes the Allen Gardiner in Ipswich and the Lady Florence in Orford – scooped a 2020 Good Food award after a public vote.

But their hopes of a big year for the boats as bookings soared have been scuppered by the coronavirus crisis.

MORE – Which towns in Suffolk and north Essex are worst hit by dramatic falls in consumer spending?

There is no prospect at the moment of any grant aid because water-based River Cruise Restaurants – which employs 20 people – isn’t eligible for business rates in order to apply for it. Each time they try to apply, the system requires their rates details and without these, they are unable to proceed. They have approached council and other government bodies for help, but are pointed back to the same online scheme which refuses to process their application.

And to add to their woes, their bid for a bank loan under another government scheme to help keep the business afloat during the crisis was turned down.

The Allen Gardiner  floating restaurant  Picture: RIVER CRUISE RESTAURANTSThe Allen Gardiner floating restaurant Picture: RIVER CRUISE RESTAURANTS

The couple fear restaurants may be among the last wave to be released from lockdown, causing them more financial headaches.

Director Craig Ambury now fears for the future of the family business, which was started 28 years ago with the Lady Florence, and expanded eight years ago with the addition of the Allen Gardiner. The boats are licensed to take up to a dozen diners on each three hour cruise, which includes a meal.

He was “absolutely totally frustrated” that according to the government criteria his businesses are not eligible for the retail, hospitality and leisure grant fund, which offers up to £25k in aid.

“We are obviously struggling on, or trying to struggle through. It’s becoming a bit of a crunch point now because we have got our basic standing orders to pay for,” he said. “It’s now becoming critical for us really.”

River Cruise Restaurants owner Craig Ambury, Lady Florence manager Sharon Mills, kitchen assistant Olly Woodhead and Kris Ambury with their Good Food 2020 award, chosen by a public vote  Picture: RIVER CRUISE RESTAURANTSRiver Cruise Restaurants owner Craig Ambury, Lady Florence manager Sharon Mills, kitchen assistant Olly Woodhead and Kris Ambury with their Good Food 2020 award, chosen by a public vote Picture: RIVER CRUISE RESTAURANTS

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Bank charges were also mounting up, he added.

Frustratingly, buoyed by the award and by a new website and booking system, they were hoping for a successful year, he said. Other similar businesses plying their trade on the rivers were in the same boat, he added.

“Our business premises are two boats, which are moored in a river and a marina. These do not qualify for business rates. Both boats were purchased outright for cash, and are wholly owned, and have no mortgages or rents,” he said.

“We have overheads, insurance and other fixed costs which must be met. Since the boats cannot serve meals or cruise, we have zero income, and are effectively closed down.

“The boat businesses are inevitably seasonal, and lockdown has occurred right at the very beginning of our peak summer season.

“Once lockdown is finished, it is going to take some time to re-establish our business and return to profit, so it will be summer 2021 before we expect to return to normal.”

Institute of Directors (IoD) Suffolk chairwoman Elizabeth Pearce said: “The IoD has been concerned about the amount of businesses who seem to be falling through the gaps in terms of government support.

“We have been and continue to lobby nationally and regionally on behalf of these businesses, who are contributing to the economy in tax revenue and employment and whose businesses are the lifeblood of Suffolk. They are incredibly frustrated and understandably concerned about the future.

“In this case, the Lady Florence is a much-loved part of Orford and Ipswich, drawing innumerable tourists to the area. The family owners need answers now to be able to make decisions about the future of this valued Suffolk enterprise.”

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