The ceremony for the East of England Tourism Awards 2022-2023 was held at Milsoms Kesgrave Hall in Suffolk earlier this year. Here, two of the winners tell us more about their businesses and how they felt when they won their awards. 

New Tourism Business of the Year  
Sponsored by Swiss Camplings  
Winner: Thorington Theatre  

In the space of two years, Thorington Theatre has gone from being “a folly” – in co-founder Lindy O’Hare’s words – to a destination venue on the Suffolk Heritage Coast, as one of her friends described it.  

The outdoor theatre is nestled in a bomb crater in Lindy and husband Mark’s organic nut farm in the village of Thorington in Suffolk. The seating is made from the wood of coppiced trees from the farm.  

The theatre opened in 2021, when the country was just coming out of lockdown. Outdoor touring theatre companies contacted them in their droves.  

“It was just wonderful,” said Lindy.  

They expected to host school trips and the like, but the reality exceeded their expectations.   

Visitors soon flocked to Thorington Theatre. “People were happy to come outside for the first half of 2021. They had the two-metre spacing,” she added. “In the second half of 2021, we were at full capacity.  

“They were so happy to get out and about again. And that put us on this trajectory.”  

East Anglian Daily Times: There was a full house for Robin Hood last monthThere was a full house for Robin Hood last month (Image: Thorington Theatre)

This year’s summer season, which began at the end of May, is set to be the biggest yet.

There’s comedy from Nina Conti, Hal Cruttenden, Angelos Epithemiou and Rosie Jones, poetry from Luke Wright and Hollie McNish, opera presented by Wild Arts and family shows such as Dr Dolittle and The Wind in the Willows. There are also fairytales – some for children, and some just for the grown-ups.   

Being based on an organic nut farm, Lindy and Mark like to keep everything as environmentally friendly as possible.   

Theatre-goers can enjoy local beers, wine, cider, juices and ice creams. There’s a picnic area which local business Husk can deliver bespoke picnics to an hour before the show.  

Cleaning products and even the toilet rolls are environmentally friendly too – essential with compostable toilets.   

Speaking after the East of England Tourism Awards, Lindy said she was “overwhelmed” when the theatre won New Tourism Business of the Year.  

“We hadn’t expected it. It was a friend of ours who persuaded us to enter,” she added. “Now we’re through to the national awards. “We’ll really put East Anglia on the map.”  

Last week, Lindy was at the national awards – the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence 2023 – and Thorington Theatre won New Tourism Business of the Year. “We are so grateful,” said Lindy. “It’s made the whole team very excited that we have something that’s great for Suffolk, and it’s bringing in visitors, and it’s working.”   

East Anglian Daily Times: The marquee will be reopening in the garden of The Lion this weekendThe marquee will be reopening in the garden of The Lion this weekend (Image: The Lion)

Pub of the Year  
Sponsored by Everard Cole 
Winner: The Lion Brasserie

The Lion Brasserie, in the heart of Constable country in East Bergholt, Suffolk, is very much a passion project for owner Jonathan Peachy.  

This 18th century pub, which is 200 metres from landscape painter John Constable’s studio and stables, was brought into the 21st century with an extensive refurbishment.  

Since reopening with its new look in 2020, Jonathan says the Lion has offered “great food and great service”.  

Locally sourced produce features on the inventive menus, which change every fortnight. 

And the team are as passionate about the Lion as Jonathan. “It’s not just a job to them, they’re excited in what we are doing,” he said. “We’re relentless in our pursuit of excellence.”  

Everybody is made to feel welcome at the laid-back brasserie, whether they’re having a casual family meal or a special celebration.  

East Anglian Daily Times: The Lion is in the heart of Constable country The Lion is in the heart of Constable country (Image: The Lion)

On winning the Pub of the Year award, Jonathan said: “We feel very humble about it, but we are grateful.”  

He added that it was nice to get an award and be recognised for what they were doing despite the events of recent years, which have made things particularly challenging in hospitality.  

So what does the future hold? Jonathan is excited to launch bed and breakfast rooms. “I’m super excited about those,” he said. “I think what we’ve got is a boutique set of rooms which match what we are doing downstairs in the pub.”  

The marquee, which was popular with diners when the Lion reopened after Covid, will be reopening in the garden today (June 17).   

Jonathan, though tight-lipped, promises a rebrand too. “We’re daring to be different,” he said.  

Following the Lion’s award success, Jonathan said: “I want to thank my team, my very, very patient family who have been on this journey with me, and our loyal customers. They are all amazing.”  

The East of England Tourism Awards 2023-2024 will launch for entries in July.