What is a village pub for?
Pubs across the country are under huge pressure, as we see in regular press reporting on closures.
It’s not a new problem. The decline in numbers built over decades as our own homes became more comfortable and TV programming improved, we agreed that driving drunk was not acceptable, and supermarkets began luring customers in with offers on booze.
Many pubs, especially those outside big towns and cities, have evolved into places that focus on food - sometimes quite fancy food - and offer a service that we use less frequently than was the case in the past. They have become much more like continental cafes and less like the boozers of old, because that’s what the economics dictate.
Against this background, the people of Stoke Ferry and district, supported by some far-flung well-wishers, achieved an incredible thing in the teeth of the global pandemic. We came together to save the Blue Bell, the last pub in the village, for the community.
Getting together the money to buy it was just the start and the renovation of a sadly neglected asset took over a year, even with huge numbers of incredibly committed volunteers under professional building leadership.
Why did we all do it?
Overwhelmingly, people say the village pub is important because it is a place to meet your neighbours and visitors, get out of the splendid isolation of your cosy living room, make new friends and feel part of the community. That is certainly working. There are so many stories of long-term and new residents making new friends at the Blue Bell through visits to the daytime café or in the evenings.
We’ve created new jobs in the village too.
The ambition for the Blue Bell is greater than that, though. It is a home to the lively Craft Group and has hosted talks on everything from home security to ornithology. We run events for kids like the massively popular Easter Egg hunts and Breakfast with Santa.
We also offer free food for kids in the school holidays and free kids meals as part of family groups in the early evenings. We provide great value weekly lunches for OAPs as well as operating as a warm hub over the winter to help people keep their home energy bills down. Our cribbage team was victorious in its first season, our games nights last winter were hugely popular and our monthly quiz nights are always a highlight.
We’re committed to good, fresh food prepared on our premises with ingredients from local suppliers wherever possible.
Our cellar is impeccably kept and our changing selection of real ales has won us a place in the Good Beer Guide in our very first year.
All of this means that we are not like other pubs in the area.
We cannot be compared with a Wetherspoons-style pub with the benefit of huge economies of scale and pre-prepared food. Nor are we like the gastropubs that offer elaborate and pricey food. Though we do match them on quality and flavour and offer very fancy dishes for our themed dinners!
The Blue Bell is a community pub.
We are committed to keeping our prices as low as we can to ensure that as many people as possible are able to use the café and pub. At the same time, we also want to give people something to splash out on if they want to, because this can boost our profits.
The money we make is ploughed back into the pub and we hope, in time, to be able to support other community projects.
Now, just like all other hospitality businesses, the Blue Bell faces the challenge of inflation and a shortage of experienced staff. So we had to take the difficult decision not to open the café and pub at the beginning of the week when usage was not sufficient to cover the costs of opening up. Many other hospitality businesses have had to take similar steps and we hope that we will be able to get back to being open seven days a week before very long.
Because of all of these pressures, we are still very dependent on volunteers to keep the café and pub running. The dedicated team that staffs the café and bar deserve all our thanks. They are building this vital community asset, a fun and welcoming centre to village life, in defiance of massive challenges.
The Blue Bell is your community hub.
How would you like to use it? What would you like to see there? Are there events that you would suggest or like to organise? Join in and be part of it.