Village pub that’s run by villagers
The closure of yet another village pub has become one of the clichés of village life. But one south Norfolk village has managed to turn that around, reports Sarah Brealey.
Village catering usually means cricket teas and perhaps a cake stall at the summer fete. But in Thurlton, near Loddon, the community has come together to provide a great deal more than that. The Queen's Head has already silenced the doubters after being taken over, and successfully run, by villagers. And this weekend sees the opening of its new restaurant, where rather than sandwiches and cake you can tuck into lemon sole and rump steak.
It is a story that could easily have been very different. When the Queen's Head was put on the market in January, the chances were that it would be another village pub left empty or converted to housing.
The pub had already had a string of landlords and had closed down three times. But villagers were determined to save it, and have managed to go even further than that.
Six months since it opened, the village's only pub is not only open seven nights a week but thriving and full of people. It is thanks to the hard work of local people, who not only invested their own money but also roll up their sleeves to help behind the bar or do the washing-up.
The restaurant has already been trialled at weekends, but will now be open five nights a week. In keeping with the spirit of the enterprise, it is no chain-style venue with identikit decor. Instead it is called the Bishy-Barney-Bee - after the Norfolk for ladybird - and is decorated with farm implements, Norfolk sayings on the walls, and of course the odd ladybird. Much of the décor has come from local people, and even the old village pump from nearby Raveningham is on display.
The pub was bought by a syndicate of 18 individuals and local business people.
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Syndicate member Steve Earl, director of a local graphics and plastics company, said: "We are literally here for the community. We are not here for ourselves, we are not here to make money."
The landlord is ex-Norwich City player Phil Hoadley, who lives in the village and ran the pub 20 years ago. He and chef Duncan Andrews are the only full-time employees, while everyone else chips in as they are needed. Mr Earl, said: "We all muck in, so if it is a busy night we will all help behind the bar. I have done more washing up here than I ever do at home!"
It is certainly not glamorous - syndicate member Dawn Parker will be spending Friday weeding the patio, with help from Steve's wife Tracey.
Mrs Parker will also be running the restaurant as well as her part-time job at a sports shop in Beccles, though she is only doing it to help out until a restaurant manager can be employed. She explains: "Because this is such a big village, if you have lost your pub you have lost the hub of the community. This is where everyone goes to meet one another."
Local people are already saying how nice it is to be able to eat in the village, and Norfolk game and local vegetables are being promised on the menu. At the moment, dishes might include liver and bacon casserole, or lemon sole in a white wine, prawn and dill sauce.
The original plan was to open the restaurant next year, but the pub has been so popular that its profits can be ploughed into the restaurant.
Mr Earl said: "Apparently we hit the third year of our business plan in the third week." There can be some drawbacks. As Mr Earl's daughter Carly, 18, who works behind the bar, said: "It takes you half an hour to leave because you have to go round and say goodbye to everyone."
But most importantly, the pub is being used, even by people who had not been in for years.
Syndicate member Mandy Read, an image consultant, said: "I didn't come in here for about seven years. Now we have to wean ourselves off it and say, 'tonight we are not going to the pub'."
t The Queen's Head is thought to be the only venture of its type in the county, but since it reopened earlier this year other villages have been contemplating following in its footsteps. The Rose and Crown in Great Massingham, near Fakenham, is due to reopen in November as the Dabbling Duck, having been taken over by five local people. The Plough in Beeston, near Dereham, closed earlier this month, but villagers are fighting to reopen it. Elsewhere, at The Dyke's End in Reach, near Waterbeach, 48 locals got together to buy it.