Graham Shelton on how Community-Owned pubs fared during five weeks of outside trading only
It’s been wonderful to read all the positive posts on the Oxford CAMRA Facebook page after so many of our local pubs were able to reopen outside, and I expect you have also seen Dave Richardson’s excellent article on this in a recent update of the Oxford Drinker. Lovely to hear how well it’s been going. Not every pub has a garden but rather few have stayed closed, often turning closed streets or car parks into impromptu beer gardens and “courtyards”. And the customers have come. So much so that the cry has gone out across the land: send more beer! We are blessed that our local brewers have stepped up to the mark.
I’ve been keeping close tabs on all the Community-Owned pubs in Oxfordshire, and indeed further afield, and here is my report. The great thing about these pubs is the number of local people always ready to lend a hand. In almost every case there was a positive frenzy of gardening, cleaning, tidying, painting and tent erection to make our pubs ready for THE BIG DAY on April 12. Imagine our horror on the morning to see snow! Absolutely every outside table was covered in a pristine, snowy tablecloth with an equally white carpet to match! “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” said Lisa Neale from the Red Lion, Northmoor, “so I laughed. We were all ready to go and there was nothing we could do.” Of course, it turned out alright on the night, as the snow disappeared as quickly as it came and lots of warmly-clad people turned up: really lots! Like many pubs with good outside space, the Red Lion has an excellent marquee with heater, and although half the “walls” had to be open to comply with Covid rules, it was soon full, with people spilling out into the garden. So good to see happy people drinking pints again, chatting and enjoying the lovely food.
Ankit Shukla reports that the Bull, Great Milton also had a great start, making full use of its outdoor patio and beer garden, and so did the Ampleforth Arms, in Risinghurst. Lyn Symms of the “Amp” says she had a good response from customers, with plenty of bookings via the website. The Abingdon Arms in Beckley, well-organized as usual, made full use of its lovely outside space, offering a good range of fresh ales and a wonderful food offering as eager customers wrapped up warm against the April snow.
Our newest Community-Owned pub, the White House at Bladon, has been going really well and chairman Mike Edwards says that landlord Johnny Roberts and partner Fran Clark have been doing a great job. On Monday, Day 1, the snow was cleared, he reports, and the garden started to fill. “We had visitors from the Blenheim Palace campsite coming to eat, joining in with our locals. The food went down a treat and the drinks were flowing. It was a great turn-out on what was still a bitterly cold day. The numbers built as the day went on. What makes it even more heartening is the amount of work over the last few weeks by the team of endless volunteers. When we saved the pub last year there was not a garden to speak of. Now there is a fabulous garden, willow weave fencing, and the 20+ year-old damaged front drystone wall has been taken down and rebuilt all by volunteers under guidance of local experts giving their time for free. Day 2 kicked off at 11 o’clock and the garden was full. For some it went on until closing time. (Even I arrived back in time to catch a couple of hours down there)”, says Mike. Great work, Team White House! I’m really looking forward to visiting soon.
It was good to hear too that the Plough at West Hanney also had a great restart. New tenants Matt and Yvonne Hough are settling in well after a period of the locals running things themselves. It was certainly busy when I looked in to see chairman Chris French. We sat down to a good pub lunch and a pint or two of their specially brewed beer, Sub4, so-called because it’s under 4% proof and therefore easy summer drinking. Matt said he sold 500 pints of it in the first week so I think we can say things are going well.
I’ll provide more Community-Owned pub reports as they come in, but recent weather has not been so good for outside eating and drinking. There’s a fierce, cold wind blowing as I write this, and it’s just started to rain. So roll on May 17 when we are allowed inside. Those roaring log fires are calling and I, for one, can’t wait. Just be sure to send more beer!