‘It just feels like I have come home’ - how one Suffolk landlady quickly became the heart of her community
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Jane Palmer knew very little about the village of Butley before taking over its pub, The Oyster, earlier this year.
Now, however, she can’t think of being anywhere else and neither can the community around her.
May 2019 saw the sudden closure of the village’s only pub, The Oyster Inn.
Award-winning and boasting a number of facilities including a village shop, cinema and brewery, its loss was greatly felt by the area for almost a year.
Jane was living in Brentwood, Essex, at the time of the pub’s closure and was running a printing business in Hertfordshire.
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“I didn’t have any concept of what it [the Suffolk Coast] was,” said Jane.
“For me the seaside was Brighton and Kent.”
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Moving to a quiet village in Suffolk to take over its pub seemed a million miles away from her mind, until a number of chance encounters.
“I drove over the Orwell Crossing and thought, why had I not been here before?” she said.
Jane was introduced to Butley and The Oyster through chance business meetings and even joked to the former owner that she’d pick up shifts in the pub if she ever needed help.
Jane had previous experience with pubs, having run one for a time in the Cotswolds.
“I think if you love it, you always love it and would go back to it in some form,” she said.
So when the Oyster went up for sale, Jane was eager to look around.
She fell in love with the 18th century pub and decided to take it on.
“I am really enthusiastic about anything I do,” she said. “I couldn’t do it any other way. Whether I am pulling pints or printing cards I have the same enthusiasm.”
Plans to reopen began to move ahead until the coronavirus pandemic turned Jane life upside down.
“The first day of lockdown was the day we wanted to open the doors,” she said.
With the reopening plans scuppered, Jane put her efforts into helping her new community.
She reopened the pub’s shop and started sorting out meals for struggling families.
“At the highest point we were doing 500 meals a week,” said Jane.
“I was a single parent and brought up three boys. I have been through points in my life like that. I knew what it was like. It was just the right thing to do.”
Jane’s inspiration to work hard has come from her own family.
“I grew up in a big family,” she said. “I have a strong work ethic. My dad inspires me, all day long, and my other half Rob never doubts me, he’s there without exception.”
Her adopted community has also came to inspire her as the months went on.
“We live in a community where people have lived all their life,” she said.
Jane has a lot of plans for the The Oyster in the coming months and years; she hopes that it will once more be the hub of the community and cater to its needs.
“The shop will go through a number of transitions,” she said. “I want it to support people locally. It needs to be a local shop. It needs to be affordable.
“I think that’s going to be a massive thing in the next year.”
Jane said she had already been in touch with local breweries about how to get the pub’s own site going again but didn’t expect that to happen in the next six months.
The cinema space will also see changes. “There’s more it could be,” she said.
While the impact of her plans for the pub will be extensive, it would be fair to say that the pub and the village of Butley itself has had a profound impact on Jane herself.
“I have been quite nomadic,” she said. “When people say they are going home, that’s my parents’ home.
“[In Butley] It just feels like I have come home.
“It’s the first time in 10 years I have felt that. It’s also beautiful here. We have golden hour every night.”
The appreciation for the work Jane and her team have carried out in Butley is widespread throughout the village.
Jo Peters, clerk for Butley Parish Council and a resident in the village, said that Jane’s work in the village had been invaluable.
“It’s just made a huge difference to our community,” said Jo.
“We have a pub that not only has a shop but has been supporting the community and others all the way through lockdown.
“I used to go up there for a distanced chat too during lockdown walks.”
Jo said was remarkable how Jane and her team had got the previously empty shop open and stocked with illusive toilet roll in just a few days, in addition to serving takeaway food and preparing school lunches.
Recently Maisie Pettitt, one of the oldest residents in Butley joined Jo to present Jane with flowers to say a heartfelt thank you for her work.