The owners of a village pub in east Suffolk have been praised for creating “something quite special” after picking up a regional award just over four years after reopening the dilapidated old building.

Members of the Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Ipswich and East Suffolk branch voted “overwhelmingly” for the Sweffling White Horse to be the region’s Rural Pub of the Year, praising it as a “fantastic example of what can be achieved through hard work”.

Its owners, Marie Smith and Mark Sealey, say they first went to view the pub in 2008 “by accident” having been told it was a house with a large garden where they could pursue their dream of running a campsite.

Despite its derelict condition, they bought the pub at auction the following week, and, after much refurbishment, reopened it on winter solstice 2011.

In a joint statement, the owners said: “Having never run a pub before – with just a passion for real ale and real pubs to work from – this award means the world to us.

“At the risk of sounding a bit gushy – and a bit like someone getting an Oscar or something – we would like to thank all our amazing friends and family for everything they have put into this dream, and for adding their own sparkle to the place.

“We’d also like to say a big thank you to all our regulars and the local brewers – adding fantastic beer, smiles and a warm welcome to our lovely pub!”

CAMRA’s Pub of the Year competition organiser Allan Crampton, praised the pub as “a fabulous example of what can be achieved though hard work and finding your own niche in the local pub scene”.

“Marie and Mark have worked hard to create something quite special and in keeping with their values which has created something quite unique that local drinkers and visitors to the area can enjoy,” he added.

The pub is up against the Stanford Arms in Lowestoft and the Dove in Bury St Edmunds to become overall Suffolk Pub of the Year.