Pubs reopen in Dereham and East Barsham - giving fresh hope to the industry

Co-owners of The Rusty Tap in Dereham, Louise Wolliter, Kane Hooper and Ben Watkins. Picture Sam Wol

Co-owners of The Rusty Tap in Dereham, Louise Wolliter, Kane Hooper and Ben Watkins. Picture Sam Wolliter - Credit: Archant

It has been a challenging time for British pubs with the latest figures stating that they are closing at a rate of 29 a week.

The Barsham Arms on Fakenham Road, East Barsham. Picture: Andy Langley

The Barsham Arms on Fakenham Road, East Barsham. Picture: Andy Langley - Credit: Archant

But two pubs in Norfolk are hoping to buck that trend by breathing new life into once declining businesses.

The Barsham Arms, in East Barsham, near Fakenham, and The Rusty Tap, in Dereham, have reopened within weeks of each other and are just 15 miles apart.

John Bingham, owner of the Barsham Arms, says he took the risk because he is confident that if a business is able to modernise itself and offer a good product then it can overcome industry challenges.

He said: 'You have to be more of a multi-faceted business now. You can't just be a local pub offering drinks, it's about moving with the market and you can't risk standing still for too long.'

The Barsham Arms, formally the White Horse, went through a name change and months of renovations before reopening with a new look on March 16 and business has been growing ever since.

Its focus is now on hospitality, offering customers an attractive local food menu and various accommodation options. Mr Bingham describes the pub as 'country-vintage' and says he considers it a country pub-kitchen rather than just a traditional local pub.

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This strategy is echoed by the owners of Dereham's Rusty Tap, which opened on April 1.

Co-owner Kane Hooper said: 'Burgers and food, that is what we're trying to do. All our burgers are hand made from local butchers over the road, so everything is made in house and cooked here. That's really our selling point.

'We are also trying to push other drinks that aren't seen in the area as often, like Tetleys and Strongbow fruits.'

Mr Hooper and his business partners, Ben Watkins, and Louise Wolliter left their previous jobs in traffic management to take on the risky business venture and they did so out of passion and nostalgia, rather than a simple business opportunity.

He said: 'This used to be a pub that everyone knows. It'll probably never be known as the Rusty Tap, everyone will come in and call it Cockers as that's what it was when I was about four. It was a big pub in town and everyone used to come here. We want to bring it back. We want to make it as popular as it once was.'

The Barsham Arms

The Barsham Arms, formerly White Horse, has been given an extensive renovation in order to turn it from a traditional local pub into an establishment that focuses on rustic food and hospitality.

It offers visitors an extensive food menu as well as a range of beverages. Owner John Bingham has also created comfortable accommodation for those that enjoy staying in country pubs.

It currently features various accommodation options, including a holiday cottage, which sleeps up to five people, a family room with an en-suite bathroom, and two double bedrooms.

Mr Bingham says that he hopes to soon expand this aspect of the pub and is in the planning stage for two additional rooms.

He said: 'We've tried to softly launch as it had been closed for a while and we are extremely pleased with the trade so far. We've been growing week on week and the weekends are now fully booked.'

The Rusty Tap

Dereham's newly opened Rusty Tap is a passion project for its three young owners who hope to restore its past reputation within the town.

The pub has been refurbished and given a modern yet vintage feel. Its focus is to offer drink options which aren't found elsewhere and handmade burgers. The owners also hope to soon bring live music to the venue.

Speaking of the decision to take on the challenging business, co-owner Kane Hooper said: 'My co-owners, Ben and Louise, once walked past the pub and said that if it ever goes up we'll have it and about three months later it went up. So the two of them went for it and asked me to join in. We left our jobs and started this.

'We used to do traffic management, so it's a little bit of a change for us but we didn't want to do what we were doing any more, and thought if not now then when? Why shouldn't we just go for it and see what happens?'