Progress report: Lamb & Flag

Manager Steve Jones leaves his post a few weeks ahead of re-opening

In a sudden and unexpected development, Steve Jones has left his post as manager of the Lamb & Flag a few weeks ahead of its anticipated re-opening. A well-known figure on the Oxford pub scene and previously manager of the Plough at 38 on Cornmarket, he was appointed last autumn as it was announced that a Community Benefit Society, the Inklings, had taken over the lease of the closed pub and would operate it on behalf of St John’s College.

Since then he has been overseeing the revamp of this historic building, which has included the complete overhaul of the cellar, improvements to the kitchen and removal of the bar in the part of the pub fronting St Giles, to create more space for seating. Work has been more extensive and challenging than anticipated, with the result that hoped-for re-opening dates before Christmas 2021 and before the end of February this year have now slipped. Inklings board member Dave Norwood said it would probably re-open in time for Easter (mid-April), and it is going ahead with private events for Inklings shareholders during February.

Steve Jones outside the Lamb & Flag in November

Asked about Steve Jones’s departure, he said: “It didn’t work out and this was a difficult project to manage. A lot of people were involved on our side and we struggled a bit with how each other worked. We have no hard feelings against Steve and we want him to do well in the future. The Community Benefit model is an unusual beast.”

Steve Jones said he preferred not to comment, but he was now assessing his options including whether to stay in the pubs business. He said he was disappointed to be leaving not only for himself, but for the many people who looked forward to him running the pub. A regular in the Good Beer Guide and many times winner of the City Pub of the Year award before its closure before Christmas 2020, the Lamb & Flag will again be positioned as a real ale pub with up to six local ales on hand pump, and will have a modest food offering rather than being a food-led pub.

Inklings chair Kate O’Brien wrote to shareholders last week, saying: “Our mission remains to preserve, protect and enjoy the Lamb & Flag whatever happens out there. It’s been a mighty response, and there are now nearly 300 Inklings. Despite the challenges of omicron, we have all been working hard to get the pub ready for the re-opening. Everyone who has dropped by seems to be excited by the renovations. For many the biggest shock will be the toilets. We took on board your advice….. don’t change much, but please sort out the toilets.

Former manager Steve Jones (right) shows a party around the cellar as the revamp continued

“We are also really excited about the front room adjoining St Giles. The bar has been removed and we will have a lovely Georgian space with more tables. It will also be a super space to hold talks and events. We have been giving a lot of thought to the grand opening party, and taking on board advice in the light of new Covid variants. It feels more prudent to hold three smaller events instead, and have much reduced numbers at each.

“It’s been an enormous amount of work to get to this point, and Covid keeps bringing new challenges. We intend to re-open the pub as soon as possible after the renovations. We wanted to thank all Inklings for their support and patience, and for the hard work and dedication of the volunteers.”