AS MUCH as he’d personally dislike the term, Jeremy Ashpool is the grand daddy of quality dining in Sussex.

For nearly 40 years, Jeremy and wife and business partner Vera have championed modern an highly creative dining featuring dishes packed with local and seasonal produce in both the restaurant and more informal neighbouring Café Elvira.

Located in the former coach house and stables of the Borde Hill Estate near Haywards Heath, it would be hard for a first-time visitor not to be taken aback by the utter beauty of the venue and its surrounds.

Celebrated in The Times as one of the UK’s most romantic restaurant venues, to look out on to the stunning kitchen gardens whilst enjoying head chef Jimmy Gray’s impeccable dishes is pretty much what the word ‘sublime’ was made for.

Yet times have changed. Without doubt, Jeremy and Vera have seen many ups and downs through their careers – the restaurant industry is most definitely not for the faint-hearted – but Covid-19 was an unseen curve-ball.

“As Covid-19 spread westwards from Asia, it was clear that lockdown of restaurants in the UK was inevitable,” said Jeremy.

“The resultant loss of business was a cause of great anxiety, with our having to stand down and furlough most of our staff with almost immediate effect.

"As bookings dropped during March, and being faced with the inevitability of lockdown, our management team – including chefs, restaurant manager Matt Penfold and weddings and events manager Joanne Philp – hastily convened.

"We took a deep breath, looked at what we could achieve with the restrictions. Then we hit the ground running.”

As a longstanding cornerstone of the Sussex food scene, the restaurant utilised the loyalty that many guests past and present feel towards Jeremy, Vera and the team.

Jeremy said: “We quickly came up with a menu of chilled dishes that are available for collection, ranging from fresh bread through to complete meals. And the new service has been incredibly well-received by our regular guests and people living in the vicinity.

“Our talented head chef Jimmy Gray and sous chef Maria Chilton have taken the essence of the restaurant to create quality dishes that people can enjoy in the comfort and safety of their own homes.”

The Jeremy’s At Home service has been so popular that on most days the kitchen is at full capacity. The restaurant also continues to work alongside long-standing suppliers who share the same philosophy.

Jeremy revealed: “With our eye on seasonality and only using the best local produce, our aim is to refresh the choice of dishes every three weeks or so. We’ve worked hard to ensure that both our restaurant and café guests are catered for with a wide offering of great quality, easy to serve and affordable dishes.”

In addition to individual dishes for collection, head chef Jimmy has also developed a fine dining tasting menu for those who want a more premium home dining experience.

Before the lockdown, Jeremy’s Restaurant and other businesses located on the Borde Hill Estate were already facing a potential financial crisis.

An extensive new housing estate is under construction between the estate property and Haywards Heath, which involves significant road closures as new transport infrastructure is developed, meaning a long-term closure of the main roads into Borde Hill.

Jeremy hoped the developers and county council would take advantage of the lockdown period but little construction has been delivered over the past two months.

“The prospect of a potential three-month road closure remains an alarming one on top of all this and we are vigorously still fighting to lessen the impact by urging the developer and West Sussex County Council’s highways department to recognise that the works can be achieved right now, without such devastating consequences to our businesses and the community in general.”

For anyone who works in the sector, it’s fair to say that hospitality – and wider leisure and tourism – has been historically regarded by UK politicians and policy makers as a secondary industry, despite being an essential part of the social, cultural and economic landscape of the country.

UK hospitality and tourism employs some 3.2 million people and generates a gross turnover of £130 billion with £39 billion of tax revenue going to the exchequer.

Whilst often lacking a succinct collective voice, – compared to automotive, aviation and the financial sector – hospitality and tourism businesses employ 10 per cent of the country’s workforce.

The post-lockdown scenario for independent restaurant businesses such as Jeremy’s is going to be incredibly challenging.

He said: “For the future, we share the very deep concerns expressed by senior industry leaders and high-profile chefs who all recognise the financial impact of trying to reopen with social distancing and limited numbers of guests. Restaurants already work on tight margins so halving the number of covers will simply not be viable for many businesses, particularly small independents. The numbers quite simply won’t stack up.

Jeremy hopes that the furlough scheme will be extended to allow sectors such as hospitality to slowly but surely pick themselves – and their staff – up and find a way through the impact of Covid-19.

“The Government’s recent announcement of the extension of the furlough scheme until October is great news. It means that employees will be able to return to work, with employers sharing the cost for a period of time until business picks up.

“This terrible pandemic makes decision-making so difficult and predictions impossible to make. Without proper support, the future looks very bleak for the wider industry. How matters will stand at year end is anyone’s guess but, I believe, strong resourceful operators will find a way to survive.

"We will certainly need extra portions of warmth, humour and the spirit of conviviality but that is second-nature for those of us with hospitality running through our veins.”