Posted: 30.06.20 at 12:50 by Derek Davis
2020 has not been the best of times for many so far, but spare a thought for the peninsula couple whose nightmare started hours before the year even began.
Paul and Gemma Chenery, owners of the Brantham Bull, have suffered a serious fire, which destroyed the kitchen and almost the whole pub, two catastrophic storms costing them hundreds of bookings, as well as the pandemic, which forced them to close two days before one of their busiest days of the year.
And if that was not bad enough, the family are all devoted Ipswich Town supporters and their club's season has been disappointing to say the least, with the hoped for bounce back to the Championship over well before coronavirus struck.
The Chenery's Annus Horribilis started on New Year's Eve with 150 people booked in for their traditional hog roast and disco and many customers already happily chattering away in the bar and restaurant areas, when the thermostat on the fryer failed.
"It was a night I will never forget," said Paul. "Maisie our daughter opened the kitchen door, which created an air flow and the flames shot up the ventilator. Maisie got out and screamed for help, we grabbed fire extinguishers, the fire alarms were going off and the flames were going out and then back in from the extractor fans.
"It was like something you saw in the films."
Gemma and staff member Heidi, with the help of friends, ushered customers to the safety of the car park as Paul tried to fight the blaze, which was going into the extraction system and then back into the kitchen as Suffolk fire crews raced to the pub on the A137.
He said: "We managed to get the fire under control with the help of some very good friends and customers. People were grabbing fire extinguishers from all over and passing them on.
"The fire brigade were brilliant, they were here within minutes. They took control and then dampened down. They told us then that we were 10 minutes from losing the pub.
"It was horrendous, absolutely terrifying.
"The staff were great, Gemma and Heidi with friends Donna and Adrian helping control people who were still arriving in the car park.
"It certainly gave me a new found respect for the fire brigade and I told them so on the night."
Despite the huge setback, true British resolve came to the fore and the night went ahead, with many customers staying.
Gemma takes up the story and said: "The fire brigade let us go in and get Prosecco for customers outside while they were waiting, although some starting to get shirty, I don't think they realised how serious it was.
"Paul was getting oxygen as he had treated in a lot of smoke. Then the fire officers said the event could go ahead but I have no Idea how we managed that, it was pure adrenalin."
After the blaze, the night went well considering, with people saying they enjoyed. Paul and Gemma went in the next morning fora good clean up before going to watch Ipswich at Wycombe, where they enjoyed the hospitality.
Then it was back to reality and the couple admitted they would not have been able to reopen without a huge help from both sets of parents and local electrician from CRH Electrical.
"Carl the electrician made it all safe, he has been incredible for us," said Paul. "He is still helping us today with all sorts of things - he has been brilliant."
It was then a case of overcoming and adapting.
Paul said: "Our kitchen was condemned so we decided to use the marque that we had, it was winter so not being used but we thought we would give it try. So we basically move the temporary, army-style, kitchen into the marque.
"Another customer friend lent us a load of equipment so we had good little set up eventually. The biggest issue was getting the food to the restaurant still hot, so we set up a little tunnel corridor and it worked fine.
"Lots of customers helped and everyone came together, we are so grateful to all of them."
But just as they were adjusting to a new normal, the couple were hit by a double whammy as storms Ciara and Dennis struck with a vengeance.
"Then we had the first storm," groaned Paul. "It hit us bad and I was close to going over the edge.
"The marque got hit for six and that was that. I was trying to deal with a Loss Adjuster and that alone nearly tipped me over the edge."
With the marque ending up hanging from a chimney and another 120 booking lost, the Chenery's tried to get organised for the following weekend.
Gemma said: "The customers were so lovely and understanding I got emotional done of my friends. Holly, ended up talking to them and letting them know. They all booked for the following Sunday and then the next storm hit."
That almost took Paul over the edge and he added: "I have to admit there was one afternoon where I'm not ashamed to say, it all got on top of me and I broke down in the kitchen.
Gemma admitted she, and others, were very concerned about her husband and the family's future.
"Paul was getting very ill by all the stress, the sheer exhaustion and I will be honest me and some of his friends were worried he was going to have heart attack.
"We always pick each other us, always. We have been through some rubbish times but have always managed to pick each other up because normally both of us are never down at the same time. But it had got to the stage where we wondered what on earth are we doing."
Paul recalled: "When the second storm hit, we got another marque, nearer to the kitchen but that storm had killed us, and I was on the verge of just packing it all in.
"Carl helped us build a makeshift kitchen inside and that was working fine but within two weeks the virus hit, and like every other pub and business we were done."
The timing of the lockdown aha devastating effect on many pubs, and while the Chenery's understand why it was done, they believe a definitive decision should have been made earlier.
"The way the government treated us was horrendous," said Paul. "To shut us two days before Mother's Day, was awful. While it was understandable it was the lead up when he was saying, go to the pubs, but don't go to pubs.
"We had some people cancelling, other saying we are coming, then on the Friday he cancelled it.
"We had all our stock for Mothering Sunday come in on the Thursday then the next day we were done."
Gemma had ordered 50 pots of daffodils and still took them so as not to let the florist down
Then along with other pubs the Bull lost Easter, VE Day, Father's Day, half-term and as the weather has been amazing, they would have been rammed.
But, after every storm there is a golden sky and the couple have actually embraced the subsequent lockdown well, and reevaluated their whole life and circumstances.
Without downplaying the tragedy people have suffered due to the Covid-19 virus, the enforced break might have saved them in some ways.
Gemma "At first, like everyone we were upset, but actually this break has actually come at good time for us.
"It stopped us doing what we were doing and think about things. It made us think about our health, reassess the business, refresh and think about the future.
"It helped us have a great time with the kids, really quality family time, going out for bike rides, spending time together
"We missed our parents, which was tough, because they are so involved in the business and the children, anyone who knows us know what our parent, do for us. They are superstars."
Encouraged by the support shown while doing takeaways, Paul and Gemma are looking forward to opening but it will not be until next Wednesday, July 8.
"We are not ready to come back on July 4," said Paul. "The insurance mucked us abut so much, we had to get anther loss adjuster, who has been good but we are still a long way behind."
A new open-plan kitchen will replace the burnt out wreck, with Carl the electrician still beavering away, and the plasterer and painters packing on.
There will be other changes too, as the Chenery's have reevaluated the way they operate and that will include a trimmed down menu, change in ing hours to make the business more viable and allow them time off.
"Lockdown has taught us 110% about the value of a home-life now," said Paul.
"We were constantly slogging our guts out worrying about the pub and not enjoying what the children were doing.
"We are a team and everything has been about the customer, that won't change, but we are going to think about ourselves, the family more."
With six months more to go in 2020, it can only be hoped things will be better than the first six months, for the Chenery's and everyone else, and their resolve can be an inspiration for all.