On Guildford Road in the heart of the beautiful Surrey Hills lies the quaint village of Abinger Hammer. And in that village, lies The Abinger Cookery School — a hub of learning (but, more importantly, deliciousness, fun and laughter) run by a group of food-loving enthusiasts.
The school was bought by Lizzie Marsh and her family in March 2020. For Lizzie, it was wonderfully enjoyable when she visited the school with her dad for a cookery course a couple of years before. So, when the opportunity arose to make the school her own and drive her passion for food into a range of exciting courses, it was too good a prospect to pass up.
But, really, the tale of the school starts long before March 2020…
Chapter one: The Abinger Arms
Back in the 1840s when Queen Victoria was on the throne and ice cream was first invented, the school was known as ‘The Abinger Arms’. This village pub sat adjacent to the famous clock where, to this day, ‘Jack the Blacksmith’ strikes the hour with his hammer as a nod to Surrey’s industrial past. Around the bar, you could also find impressive ironwork with elaborate designs including several horseshoes and tools alongside the pub name.
When the pub closed suddenly in 2012, it sat sad and empty for a couple of years, before being lovingly turned into The Abinger Cookery School in 2014.
The old pub-turned-cookery-school brought people together from all across the land as they realised the true magic of food and how just a few simple ingredients could be turned into something delightful with a bit of care and attention.
Groups of friends came in their hoards, giving each other confidence and playful jibs in equal measure as they tackled the kitchen together. Couples enjoyed a special date night while adding exciting recipes to their repertoires. And colleagues unleashed their competitive sides as they battled to be the ultimate master chef on corporate team outings.
Some learnt the secrets of barbecuing whilst others tried their hand at baking and intricate chocolate making. Teenagers picked up new techniques before flying the nest and heading off to university. And retirees who had never cooked before discovered hidden skills and found that the kitchen wasn’t so scary after all!
Yet, even in its newfound glory, many visiting locals could still recall stories from the bygone days and would frequently share fond memories of The Abinger Arms — one gentleman even revealed that he used to deliver milk to the pub as a young boy!
Chapter two: when the pandemic struck
Things were going well at The Abinger Cookery School, and after a successful opening, the positive feedback was flooding in. Then the pandemic struck, bringing life as everyone knew it to a standstill. The country went into lockdown and the school had to close, leaving Lizzie and the team heartbroken. They had only just started getting things up and running — now what could they do?!
But rather than sitting on their laurels and letting the lockdown dampen their spirits, they picked themselves up and decided to use the time wisely to get the word out near and far. They refreshed the website, set up a new Instagram account, revamped their gift voucher cards, boosted advertising efforts and came up with a whole host of creative marketing ideas. Lizzie even landed an interview on BBC Radio!
Everything was set ready for the team to welcome back their sorely missed customers safely. Now, all they could do was wait in eager anticipation for the lockdown to be lifted…
On the 4th of July, the good news everyone had been waiting for finally arrived: the school was officially allowed to reopen! The team flung open the doors and smiled happily as customers once again came trickling through, keen to get into the kitchen and start cooking with Jake and David, the school’s two chefs.
Of course, there were more challenges to come in 2020 as a second lockdown loomed. But the team was prepared and ready to take it on headfirst — connecting with customers virtually instead as Lizzie started up her live cook-along classes on Instagram.
Chapter three: onwards and upwards
As 2020 drew to a close, the team wrapped up the final courses for the year and started looking ahead to 2021. What might the new year bring they wondered?
Travelling to new places and discovering the various delicacies they have on offer? Meeting friends and family at the pub? Summer barbecue parties and the biggest Christmas celebrations you’ve ever seen? They could only hope.
But for the team at The Abinger Cookery School, one thing was certain: this was only just the beginning, with plenty of things to be excited about for the year ahead. From revamping existing courses and introducing brand new half-day sushi, macaron making and knife skills ones, to increasing the class sizes once again, there would be no stopping them in 2021.
We’ll be closing the school from noon on the 24th of December so that our Abinger family can have a well-deserved rest. But don’t worry, you can still contact us at [email protected] if you have any questions or are panic shopping on Christmas Eve! (Our gift vouchers would make an excellent present for the food lover in your life.) We hope you all have a magical Christmas, and we look forward to seeing you at the school in the new year.