A MIRROR with a very poignant engraving has pride of place in the Strangers Home pub.

It bears the name of owners Jo and Ritchie Hammond’s 18-year-old daughter, Carys, who was killed in car accident just days after they took over the premises in April.

Jo explains they had taken on the challenge of the business, which includes the running of a campsite to the back of the pub, in the village of Bradfield near Manningtree, very much as a family venture and this hung very much in the balance following the devastating news.

It is something they are still trying to come to terms with as a family.

Jo says: “We had only been here 12 days and we obviously just felt like we wanted to walk away It has devastated us.

“But Carys was so passionate about this, and she had been so involved in the planning for the opening and what we were going to do.

“We knew she would have kicked us up the butt if we had not carried on.

“So that is what we did. She is not here but she is very much a part of it and that is why we had her name engraved on the mirror above the bar.”

Carys had also been instrumental in choosing the uniforms the waitresses would wear, as she was going to be working there too, and the family continued with what she had chosen.

“This has kept us so busy we have just kept going really but I go to sleep thinking about her and I wake up thinking about her. It never goes away.

“She had so many ideas, including the uniforms and she was a very bright, intelligent young lady,” says Jo.

She and Ritchie are also parents to Natasha, Chloe, Shane, Jodie and Mollie and have two grandchildren.

All of their children are involved in the Strangers Home, on Station Road, in some way.

“Mollie, our youngest, is turning 15 soon but she helps in the restaurant at the weekends and they are all involved in some way.

They bring with them experience of running a campsite having run the Grange Country Park in East Bergholt until 2011.

They have most recently been living in Bentley near Capel St Mary.

“We bought two houses which we renovated but we had actually wanted to buy another caravan park but nothing really came up.

“Then we were driving by to go and visit my in-laws one day and we saw this pub all boarded up with the caravan site at the back.

“It was immediately different from what were used to because at the Grange we had a clubhouse but that was at the back of the site so we were going to have to get used to one at the front,” adds Jo.

It also needed to be completely stripped out and renovated before they could re-launch to the public.

As well as carrying out this work Jo and Ritchie have also renovated the toilets and shower block on the camp-site.

“We have not stopped since we moved in and even the night before our launch party we were still putting up the mirrors,” she says.

She says the support they have received from the village itself has been one of the aspects which has kept them going through the extremely tough weeks following Carys’ death and their efforts to open the pub.

“They didn’t know us as we had only just moved in but the kindness they showed us was amazing and they have continued to support us and help in any way they can,” says Jo.

With the support of her elder daughters, Jo is running the restaurant side of the pub herself, keeping the menu small but focusing on good quality, locally produced food.

“Everything is written up on the chalk boards and we keep the menu quite small because I like to do all of the cooking myself.

“It means I can change it up when I want to but concentrate on good quality dishes and that seems to be be going down really well with customers,” she explains.

For now the Jo and Ritchie aim to focus on building the reputation of the premises back up again as well as continuing refurbishment to the pub and the camp-site.

“I think things are already changing, because the pub in the past had a bad reputation, and we want to keep moving away from that and also look at stripping back the bar itself back to its original oak as that was the one thing we just did not have time for.

“We also want to look at trying to introduce seasonal pitches for the camp-site, which we had at the Grange, and we will change the park about a bit as well.

“We already have live music once a month but we would like to do fun days in the future to encourage families in.

“Our open event was done in honour of Carys and an amazing company in East Bergholt, Events Under Canvas, donated the use of one of their beautiful teepees for free.

“It had firepits and fairylights and it really was so magical. Everyone has just been superb to us.

“But it is going to take a lot of time.

“At the moment it still feels like Carys is on holiday and she is going to come back.”