Operators split about December reopening
20 November 2020

Tom Kerridge Saving Britain’s Pubs episode two

The second episode (Thursday 19 November) on BBC2 caught up with the three pubs he visited in the last episode. Kerridge also went to Black Bull in Gartmore, near Loch Lomond in Scotland 10 weeks before the first lockdown in the spring.

The Black Bull is a pub owned and run by locals and at that point, had only been open a couple of months.

It serves the local villages and when it faced being turned into housing, villagers bought it making it a place that caters for all ages.

Run by more than 200 volunteers who raised almost £260,000 to buy the pub, everyone from the community does shifts. However, this has come with its own challenges as with a community-owned pub, it’s very difficult to get everyone to think along the same lines.

One of the stakeholders said: “It’s a community pub however if we don’t have profit, we will not be able to do the good things in the community we want to do.

According to the programme, of the 100 or so community-owned pubs in Britain, there are just two in Scotland.

Chairman of the Black Bull Peter Sunderland said: “240 people who have put money in and bought a share. We changed the atmosphere and physically, a volunteer sanded the tables and put new lights up but that’s it.

“Last Monday takings were £46, Saturday was £800.”

The pub serves food Wednesdays to Sundays and the restaurant serves community groups and plans to open it as a café during the day. It also is home to six rooms, which were unused.

This was something Kerridge offered his advice for and said: “The bedrooms need a lot of work to meet the modern standards of paying guests.

However, the issue of staffing, especially for community-owned pubs arose and Kerridge discovered the Black Bull only had one full-time member of staff – the chef – who was hired through an agency on a temporary agreement until a replacement is found.

The Bull is almost alone by being run by committee and being so dependent on being run by volunteers.

Kerridge lauded the efforts and ideas of the volunteers to get the pub but urged to keep it going, there was more work to be done.

Ideas included revamping the existing bedrooms and turning the restaurant space into a café. He said: “The café is a great idea. That is a great space. But it has to be bigger than that. There are six rooms.

“Setting [the] café up from 7am 7.30am to get it ready for breakfast, café open for lunch, rooms checking in at 3pm, bar running until midnight.”

Sunderland asked the celebrity chef if he was confident the pub would get the turnover to support more staff that would be required to give more of an all-day offer.

Kerridge responded by saying they have the opportunity and if they don’t, it will implode before asking to be shareholder in the pub.

He added: “You have to look outwards. I am 100% wanting to help you. To the point that I would very much like to buy in and buy some shares.”

The pub operator returned to the Golden Anchor in Nunhead, South London where he spoke with licensee Lana Bewry.

Since the last visit, Bewry had moved domino players to back bar and ordered new craft lagers to front bar.

She said: “I hoped they understood we need that space but they haven’t been very kind about it. I am delighted [with the change] and I’m not going back.

“I want them to stay and enjoy themselves but if they don’t, I thank them for the time they’ve been here but thank the new people that come in.”

Kerridge and Bewry went through some of the questionnaires customers had filled in during the open night, shown in the previous episode where views were mixed about the pub.

Local competition

The duo visited the Prince of Peckham, run by Clement Ogbonnaya – a pub that offers Caribbean fusion food and lively music.

Ogbonnaya said: “I wanted a pub that was about Peckham. If you can leave your front room and spend more time in a pub, than you’re front room, you’re creating that home from home environment.

“From a business sense, its about spend per head. They come in grab a beer, then food, then cocktail, then a shot, all of a sudden it’s 2am and they’ve been here six hours.”

Bewry explained how at the Golden Anchor, they focused on the customers they had rather than outside of those.

She said: “We just catered for the people who we had come in there, our black people because we had them. We alienated our neighbours. Now I feel inspired.”

Kerridge urged Lana to ensure her pub had moved with the times.

Ogbonnaya added: “You need to see your pub is the jewel in Nunhead’s crown.”

Back at the Prince Albert near Stroud, Gloucestershire, Kerridge discovered with no commercial kitchen, the couple Lottie and Miles employ a mobile pizza chef.

The supplier doesn’t pay any pitch or anything, all profit margin goes to him – something Kerridge pointed out as showing the couple are “overgenerous”. He suggested the duo use the courtyard downstairs as a commercia pizza kitchen that is permanent.

However, Miles was concerned about the funds needed to make that happen.

He said: “It would cost us investment to be able to do that”, which the celebrity chef estimated would be £20,000 to £25,000.

Miles said the couple were on a three year right to renew lease, meaning they would be putting investment into a building they didn’t own.

This led to Kerridge meeting Punch Pubs & Co boss Clive Chesser. He brought up Miles and Lottie, who are Punch tenants.

The operator told the Punch CEO: “They are at the point of thinking enough is enough, I can’t do this any longer.

Clive responded: “They are a great example of hard-working talented publicans who have created a great offer. They can make money, our view is it is important to diversify that business further. [It is} important they are investing in their business plan.”

Following this chat with Chesser, Kerridge revisited Amy and Ian Durnell at the White Hart in Chilsworthy, Cornwall where work was still ongoing to take out a wall and enhance the view of the area.

Kerridge said: “[The] cramped and dated kitchen is shut and I want to convince Amy and Ian that now is the time to make improvements before they burn out

He suggested the kitchen wouldn’t cope once things got busier and suggested swapping the kitchen around the improve the flow without having to do any structural work, just replacing with stainless steel stuff, cleaning etc.

Amy said the ideal time frame to get this work completed would be before the other work was completed.

Viewers then saw the pub in full swing with customers filling the place to celebrate St Piran’s Night – the national day of Cornwall, held on 5 March every year and named after one of the patron saints of Cornwall – Saint Piran – who is also the patron saint of tin miners.

At 9pm people all around Cornwall sing the county’s anthem and all the customers were seen singing along.

Amy said: “We need the locals like this to support us and that’s what we need to carry on.”

Back in Scotland, decorating work at the Black Bull had started by marketing group in the games room.

The property group were also planning to get as many rooms ready by Easter, which gave them a six-week window.

Recruitment issues

From here, the challenges of recruitment in the trade were highlighted, particularly in this community-owned pub where almost all of the staff were voluntary.

However, the pub started interviewing for a general manager – who was late to the interview and Kerridge discovered while there had been 51 applications for the role, only three took up offer of interview.

He reflected on his own experiences of starting up the Hand & Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire in 2005, where Kerridge and wife Beth started with two members of staff and paid themselves just £150 a week.

He said: “Now I employ 260 staff and a regular team of specialists for setting up new sites and refurbs.”

Interior designer and Kerridge’s sister-in-law Eve Cullen-Cornes helped him design the his own pubs and he called upon her expertise to help Lana Bewry at the Golden Anchor a helping hand to create “that home from home vibe”.

With a budget of just £1,500, Bewry was plastering, painting and sanding the furniture with her partner to keep costs down.

From London to Cornwall, Kerridge enlisted Jason Ball, who designed and fitted all the chef’s professional kitchens, to help out at the White Hart.

Ball estimated the work could be completed in the kitchen in a day to swap the cooking and the prep areas and create a better flow.

As a result, Amy and Ian were lent equipment and cooked dinners from regulars to aid them through the tumultuous time.

For the last part of the programme, Kerridge revealed at the Black Bull, the family games room was open for use and the property group had begun transformation of the bedrooms. Chairman Peter landed groups between 12 and 15 Americans coming across to stay.

They had also recruited a couple as manager and chef, both in full time positions.

At Gloucestershire’s Prince Albert, the property team from the pubco paid a visit to discuss improvements and Miles said: “They want to see where they can help.”

However, the programme ended with the news of coronavirus being reported in China and then slightly closer to home.

Viewers saw Miles fastidiously cleaning the taps in the toilets and Lottie revealed gigs booked with bands from across the continent had been cancelled or postponed.

She said: “It’s going to cripple the hospitality industry. What’s going to happen?”

Back in Cornwall, Amy cited statistics in March of 80% of people said coronavirus won’t put them off coming to the pub​ and Ian said: “The timing couldn’t be any worse.”

At the Black Bull, viewers saw the restaurant area of the pub was empty, while one of the volunteers said: “The Scottish Government is telling the over 70s to self-isolate, who’s going to run the pub because the majority are over 70? Everything is looking as it is closing in.

“The potential we had for the Americans was going to be £25,000 over the year, which obviously is a big sum of money. It’s tough especially when we have just taken on new staff and the new rooms.”

At the Golden Anchor, Bewry was very emotional when reading out an announcement about the pub, citing Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging customers to avoid pubs.

Finally, viewers saw Kerridge in his own pub who said: “I’ve just spent the past five months trying to help these four pubs and now I’m exactly the same as them. None of us have got any customers.”

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