Pictures: Patrick Boyd Photography, Crown Copyright
Nancy Clack’s soldier nephew Daniel, knew that she had always wanted to run her own vintage tea shop. But, in her mid-50s and with no catering experience, Nancy was lacking the vital confidence to make it happen.
Before Daniel Clack was posted to Afghanistan in 2011, he told her again to go for it. “And that was the last time I spoke to him,” says Nancy (54). Army Lieutenant Daniel was tragically killed just days before he was due to return home. His untimely death sent everyone into shock. “We’re a close-knit family, and Daniel was like a brother to my girls,” says Nancy. “It was awful for all of us. But we wanted to channel our grief into something positive, and suddenly my tea shop dream became the obvious answer. It could bring us all together and keep Dan’s legacy alive.”
Nancy’s family thought it a brilliant idea and everyone set to work. Her husband Bradley had experience of running his own business and he teamed up with his brother Martin – Daniel’s father – to re-fit the shop. Daniel’s mum Sue chose the vintage china and crockery, and Nancy’s daughters Natalie (25) and Louisa (21) picked the background music and came up with names for the tea shop’s unique blends of loose-leaf tea.
Nancy’s older sister Val was a fantastic support. “She made all the cushions, wall hangings and tablemats,” says Nancy, “and she provided the support I needed from my side of the family. I was trying so hard to keep Daniel’s family in good spirits that I often didn’t know who to turn to. She really stepped up.”
After a year of blood, sweat and tears, Nancy’s Vintage Tea Shop opened in summer 2013. “I left my management job in a London school at the end of the previous year,” Nancy recalls. “We moved house, found the shop and then it was full steam ahead. I couldn’t put my family in a position where there was no decent income. We had to get everything up and running quickly to make it work financially.”
But Nancy never lost sight of her motivation. “Dan losing his life at just 24 was a huge wake-up call,” she sighs. “He’d done far more than any of us had ever done. It made me realise that I want to make the most of life.”
Little coincidences made Nancy feel sure she’d made the right decision. “On our opening day – as if I wasn’t nervous enough – an American lady breezed in and said she wanted to book Afternoon Tea. I hadn’t even thought anyone would want to book at that stage, so I asked if it was a special occasion. She replied that her husband was about to be deployed to Afghanistan. “Then we realised that the military bases, RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath, were close by. We’d been so focused on finding a location where the shop would be filling a niche that we didn’t notice what was further afield. And so we began to encourage the military links,” she smiles.
One of the 18 teas available at the shop is Nancy’s Blight-tea, an army-themed English Breakfast blend, named in Daniel’s honour. Any proceeds from Blight-tea sales are donated to the military charity, Help for Heroes. “They’re the only charity I promote in the shop,” says Nancy, “so people will hopefully identify us with them. We always support Armed Forces Day, and sponsor any local events in aid of the charity. “Daniel has left a real legacy and I do feel he is here with us.”
The love and care poured into the tea shop give it a warm and friendly feel. Everything is homemade, with a pastry chef on-site (“He makes a mean cake,” says Nancy) and the freshly-roasted coffee as well as the unique tea blends are just part of its character.
“Nothing matches, from saucers to eggcups. It’s cosy and the food is home-cooked and traditional,” Nancy tells us. “We play all sorts of music; Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, a bit of Michael Bublé and the odd Disney song, which I’ve seen many an adult tapping along to.”
On the rare chance Nancy gets to relax, she likes to read the shop’s guestbooks, which are full of comments from happy customers. “If I’m feeling down, they perk me right up, because they show me what I’ve achieved. I like to think we’re making people happy. We want customers to relax and enjoy a bit of affordable luxury.”
To anyone else who’s thinking of making a life-changing decision, Nancy says: “Just do it. I have a sign over the kitchen door that says, ‘live the dream’. It keeps you young, and your mind alive.” Daniel would undoubtedly be very proud of his inspirational auntie, who really is now living her dream.
- Visit Nancy’s Vintage Tea Shop at 18 Old Station Road, Newmarket, Suffolk. Call 01638 667064 or visit www.nancysteashop.co.uk
- The charity Help for Heroes supports our wounded soldiers and their families. Call 01725 514130 or visit www.helpforheroes.org.uk to find out more
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