‘The time I didn’t recognise Ryan Giggs’ and other stories of award-winning Suffolk sisters behind Stoke By Nayland Hotel, Golf and Spa

Tamara and Susanna at the Ryder Cup in Paris, Sep 2018

Tamara and Susanna at the Ryder Cup in Paris, Sep 2018 - Credit: Archant

Tamara Unwin and Susanna Rendell are part of a true family business - Stoke By Nayland Hotel, Golf and Spa and also the fruit farms out of which grew Copella Fruit Juices. Here they share their love of East Anglia, as well as a few stories of their adventures in business

The family directors, Carmella, Robert, Tamara, Jonathan and Susanna

The family directors, Carmella, Robert, Tamara, Jonathan and Susanna - Credit: Archant

Susanna Rendell and Tamara Unwin are second generation family owners and directors of the Boxford Group which includes Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Golf, Spa & Lodges, Boxford Suffolk Farms and Peake Fruit. The Group employs a total of around 600 staff. Tamara (Peake) Unwin graduated in Music at Exeter University and in 1978 managed her family's two restaurants in Hampstead. She then became sales and marketing director for their Copella Juices in London, helping to establish it as a brand leader, and moved back to Suffolk with her husband Stephen in 1985 to have their 2 children. After the sale of Copella to Tropicana in 1997 Tamara became Sales & Marketing Director of the multi award-winning Stoke by Nayland resort and is a director on the Boxford Group board. Susanna (Peake) Rendall has a BSc Honours in Agriculture and Food Marketing at Newcastle University. She joined the family business in 1976. She became MD of Copella Fruit Juices whilst owned by Taunton Cider from 1989 to 1992, still helping to run the Fruit Farm and Golf Club, and bringing up her 3 children. In 1992 Susanna became the Group Managing Director of the Boxford Group, which now spans over 1,000 acres and has a turnover in excess of £20 million.

Here the dynamic sisters talk to Gina long.

Tamara, What is your connection

to East Anglia?

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I was born at Hill Farm near Boxford in Suffolk where my family had been farming since 1938. I went to school locally in Sudbury and after three years studying music in Exeter and six years in London it was the only place I wanted to settle to have our family. My husband Stephen is from Norfolk, so this was the direction we both wanted to come (although the football team loyalties can cause a little friction at times!)

What is your East Anglian Hell

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ie what you hate most about living here?

Probably the A12 - there is rarely a journey without an incident on it, although hopefully it is gradually being improved!

What's your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?

Escaping off down the road after work to play 9 holes with Stephen at Stoke by Nayland on a beautiful summer's evening close to dusk when there's hardly anyone else on the course - so peaceful! Equally great is a sunset sail in Orford or on the Orwell with friends.

What's the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?

The Suffolk Show - it's a wonderful, unspoilt, traditional farming show which I visited firstly as a child with my parents, then we had a Copella stand in the Food Hall for many years, and now I am enjoying taking the next generations along. It's really stood the test of time.

What is always in your fridge?

Loads of vegetables, hummus and several cans of Cawston Press sparkling elderflower or rhubarb juices.

What's your favourite film?

Grease - I love musicals, and dancing! Also my sister Myra played the headmistress in Grease in the West End for a few months so it reminds me of that.

What was your first job?

Managing my family's vegetarian restaurant in Hampstead for a year just after I graduated (whilst I was also playing the violin in a London orchestra - I didn't manage to practice much!) Alan Bates, Annie Lennox and June Whitfield were among our customers which was cool, as they lived locally.

What is your biggest indulgence?

Escaping from the British dark winter evenings at the earliest opportunity to get my fix of sun - November or February are the times I appreciate it the most.

What's your worst character trait?

Probably being a perfectionist at work. It can frustrate my team at times!

Best day of your life?

There have been so many it is hard to choose one. Stephen's proposal with a (hidden) bottle of champagne under an apple tree is my earliest one. This summer we hosted our daughter Jess's wedding in our garden and were surrounded by all of our closest family - including our newly engaged son George - and friends from around the globe, on a glorious June day, filled with love, happiness - and dancing! That would also be hard to beat.

What's your favourite tipple?

Champagne - I love it!

When were you most embarrassed?

When Manchester United came to stay in the hotel in 2000 (to play ITFC) I was meeting and greeting. I was fully aware of who David Beckham was, but when I shook hands with Ryan Giggs I asked him his name and he said Ryan, and I asked Ryan who? His team mates looked at me in disbelief. After that, I made sure I did my research carefully on all the other teams who stayed.

Tell us something people don't know about you?

I auditioned for a place at the Royal London Ballet School when I was 11. Fortunately I didn't get in! I also perform every year in the "d'Oyly Tartes" in a musical to raise funds for local charities.

What's your earliest memory?

Waking up as a baby in a pram that had fallen over by our lavender hedge. Our dog Jet was barking frantically and my dad rushed out of the house to rescue me.

Why live here and nowhere else?

Suffolk is in my blood. I was born on the farm and lived here until I was 18 and many of the friends I met during those formative years are still my best friends now - and it's wonderful that many of our children are also good mates.

And now to Susanna...

What is your East Anglian Heaven ie what do you love most about East Anglia?

My home in Suffolk is my heaven and sanctuary, situated within a small micro climate of dryer, warmer weather, compared to elsewhere in the UK.

Favourite East Anglian restaurant?

Maybe the Great House in Lavenham although our own Lakes restaurant comes a close second! We are lucky to have many good restaurants close by.

What's your favourite East Anglian landmark?

The Dedham vale with its contrasts of wide-open views , quaint villages and gently rolling landscapes and Stoke by Nayland Church standing out for miles around.

Specialist Mastermind subject?

Apples, but I seem to be jack of all trades, master of none!!

Your simple philosophy of life?

Always treat others how you would like to be treated. I hope with consideration, empathy and to try and listen more.

What is your most treasured possession?

A photograph of my children and their offspring, which has to be changed regularly as it keeps growing!

Who do you admire most?

Barack Obama. A thoroughly decent human being and a person to look up to with high moral values .

What do you like about yourself most?

That's difficult to answer as I have a desire to continually improve and I see most of my flaws. I suppose my dedication to my family and being there if I am needed.

Favourite holiday destination?

Portugal for the friendly people, the fresh sardines and chicken peri peri, the stunning rocky coastline and sandy coves, swimming in the cooler waters , and playing golf on their many scenic golf courses..

What's your favourite breakfast?

Crispy bacon, fried eggs , mushrooms and fresh avocado. I love fried tomatoes cooked in chilli oil as well, but they don't love me!

What's your hidden talent?

I think I am quite perceptive and have a good gut feel.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Matchbox Twenty, "If you're gone"

What's the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

I overheard my head teacher at primary school telling my mother that I was lazy brained. I have spent a lifetime trying to prove him wrong!

What do you want to tell our readers about most?

As a family business we have an ethos of being caretakers of the land and we strive to leave it in a better state than when we became its custodians; so every development has to be sympathetic to our environment and to make it a lovely place to visit and work in, which is why we have planted thousands of trees, created lakes, and introduced many water saving and proactive sustainable growing techniques. We have invested £5 million in renewable energy sources, and at Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Golf & Spa we are now carbon neutral and self-sufficient in heat and power. We have recently won various green energy awards culminating in winning the international 2019 Best Biogas Plant Award at the AD & Biogas Awards

To be considered for being featured in Gina's Q & A Email: gina@ hallfarmfornham.com

Follow Gina Long @geewizzgee1.

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