A Suffolk estate owner's dream of opening up the site for country recreation and community will take a big leap forward next week with the opening of a new purpose-built, all-year-round café.

Roots Café on the Rougham Estate near Bury St Edmunds - which opens on October 18 - is the culmination of many years of planning and careful saving by estate owner George Agnew and includes large indoor and outdoor dining and seating areas.

On the same day, the popular and long-running Blackthorpe Barn next door - which contains a Christmas shop packed with festive decorations - opens up for its annual winter season. The business complements sales of Christmas trees from the 3,000-acre farming estate's own plantation.

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Another recent seasonal diversification at Rougham has been a pick-your-own pumpkin patch started three years ago which has proved a big hit and suggests considerable pent-up demand for leisure activities in the area. Pick-your-own sunflowers are also planned.

It's encouraging for George and his partner of 28 years, Ady White, who have been working hard on putting the finishing touches to the café.

The 140-cover business - a big step up from a small seasonal café which accompanied the Christmas shop - will be manned by trained baristas headed up by café manager Daniel Williams and supplied by a professional kitchen led by head chef Laura Wheeler.

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"We are really please how well this sits in the courtyard - it doesn't look wrong," says George.

Ady has been heavily involved in the creative side of the design - which includes private seating areas in the form of quirky sheds created by Matt Brown - who has been involved in designs in the Christmas shop. Matt has also created a Suffolk Punch horse sculpture in the main café area.

These are themed - with one representing a dovecote and another a maintenance shed - and are filled with artefacts from tools to tobacco tins found around the estate. 

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Lighting features reflecting nature around the estate, reclaimed windows - including some from Rougham - and a grand mantlepiece salvaged from the estate have all been included in the café design.

The beautiful microcement flooring - costing £30k - involved a layering process which took a number of days to complete. In all, the whole building project has cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

"This was one of the really expensive things, but when we saw it we thought it was the best and we haven't regretted it - it's fabulous stuff," says George of the flooring.

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Previously, the historic barn complex was rethatched and re-purposed on a shoestring budget, he says.

"We have been operating on a shoestring but we have been quietly squirrelling away cash and we have invested in this new structure.

"It's a major policy shift and it's part of a focus of changing the estate from a traditional country estate to an estate which is open and welcoming and creating things that the public wants.

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"We hope it's going to become a local centre of meeting and entertainment and we want it to be open and friendly and that local people will come here and not think it's a bit posh now."

Although staff will have uniforms, they will be simple aprons, he says, adding: "The food will be great."

He wanted to create "the sort of place I like where it's really good but you don't feel looked down upon and intimidated," he says.

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"This has been in the planning for about four years. It has been in my head for a bit longer than that.

"It's a long old process, and then Covid hit and that probably delayed things a year. We have been building since January."

The works are entirely self-funded and have had to be very sympathetically designed in order to complement two Grade II listed buildings - Blackthorpe Barn on one side and the farmhouse where George grew up on the other.

Although the facility is new, the estate has run a café in the barn for a number of years - although it has changed location.

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Latterly - as more space was needed because of the pandemic - it was in a marquee outside where it remained for two years while the new site was built. Even at that point it was obvious that it was being used as a convenient meeting spot between Cambridge and Ipswich, says George.

At the start, the café was on a very small scale with George cooking and serving.

"I cooked all the food myself and served all the food myself from when it started in 1991 until about 1995," he explains.

"Obviously it was insane I was doing it but I do understand the business so it's always been my dream to take back control of it."

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Blackthorpe Barn consists of a thatched barn which is used as an exhibition hall for art shows and other events, while the long barn hosts the Christmas shop.

The new café has an enclosed outdoor terrace with glass doors which open fully to link into the courtyard area now created.

The aim is to be open every day until Christmas, says George, then probably for up to six days a week in the New Year.

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The idea was to make it "a centre for walks around the estate" which will be suitable for dog walkers, he adds. "It's a very dog-friendly place - we are encouraging that," he adds.

George has been carefully collecting books - covering themes from local history and the environment to food - for the café library, which will be there for customers to enjoy while taking their refreshments. Some belonged to his late brother.

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"I'm rather passionate about books - it's a work in progress," he explains. "We are trying to create an interesting library so I thought it was a nice thing to do in his memory. We would like people to sit and read the books in here."

He adds: "We are trying to make this (Roots) quite eccentric and quite eclectic." 

He is also in the process of devising long and short walks around the estate so that visitors can enjoy a day out in the great outdoors.  These range in length from 20 minutes ot two and a half hours and will be launching in January.

"It's part of opening the estate up which is our vision for the place. We are keen to encourage cyclists," he says. 

They are also aiming to serve the best coffee in the area - and to use local produce where possible. The equipment has come from Butterworth & Son in Bury St Edmunds, which is training the café's baristas.

Among the estate's many treasures - which include an airfield museum - are the beautiful ruins of its main hall. This was destroyed in World War II by a German bomber - and is believed to be the only English country house to be bombed out in the conflict. 

George's great grandfather - London art dealer Sir George Agnew - bought the estate in 1904. He was still there aged 89 when the hall was bombed in 1940. He was deeply shocked by the experience and died a year later. 

His son, Jack, who fought in the Battle of Gallipoli in World War I, ran the estate until his death in 1957 and was succeeded by George's father, Keith, who died in 1994.

George is the fourth and final generation of the Agnew family to own the estate as he and his late brother, John - who died 10 years ago - have no children.

So he is putting it in the hands of a charitable trust - the Rougham Estate Trust - which he has helped devise and which will support causes close to his heart such as music and education.

"After I die that will run the estate into the future and look after the environment here - we fund the music teaching at Rougham primary school," he says.

As well as a large farming operation managed by Simon Eddell, property rentals and the forestry operation all help to support the estate. The diversifications began in 1991 with the opening up of Blackthorpe Barn for art exhibitions and classical concerts.

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Now with the café opening it will be possible to stage more summer events, George hopes. Already, they have been able to employ more people - with the permanent workforce increasing from 10 to 15.

George says he is "probably slightly scared but very excited as well" as the launch date approaches.

Above all, he is determined that the café should be welcoming, he says.

Roots Café will be open daily from 9am and 4pm, last orders is 2.45pm. The kitchen closes at 3pm.