Portrait of heroes

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It's a long way from the National Portrait Gallery on London's Trafalgar Square to the Feathers pub in the village of Hedley-on-the Hill, near...

It's a long way from the National Portrait Gallery on London's Trafalgar Square to the Feathers pub in the village of Hedley-on-the Hill, near Stocksfield in Northumberland.

But it's a journey that licensee Helen Greer and her partner, chef Rhian Cradock, have made with some success in the past year. The £360,000 freehouse was named Regional Dining Pub of the Year in the Good Pub Guide 2008 just a few months after Helen and Rhian quit their jobs in the gallery for the pub industry.

And it's a journey, Helen freely admits, the couple could never have made without the backing of their staff.

The team's dedication, support and sheer enthusiasm has helped them to win the first monthly award in The Publican's Proud of Your People initiative, being run throughout 2008 in association with Fairy - and a £300 cash prize and £50-worth of Fairy products to boot!

Under pressure

When Helen and Rhian inherited the team at the pub last April the licensees needed their help fast. "We were under real pressure from the bank to hit our turnover targets from day one, and increase business from what the pub had been doing before," says Helen.

The couple set about making some key changes, extending trading to lunchtimes and offering full table service to diners.

Staff were asked to take more of a role at the front of house, adding their own personality to the business, as well as being more adventurous in the kitchen, led by award-winning chef Rhian.

With the pub putting greater emphasis on wine, the team also needed to get to grips with the wine list. Training from suppliers Matthew Clark and Corney & Barrow ensured they took the messages on board.

"They weren't familiar with the ins and outs of wine before, and they had a lot to take on," comments Helen. "Now they taste every wine we sell and they have the confidence to make recommendations."

A lot of that confidence has come from Helen and Rhian, who sit down and eat with the team at the end of every lunchtime and evening session - giving staff a chance to try everything on the menu.

With food accounting for an ever-increasing slice of turnover - currently 30 per cent - Helen and Rhian believe it is vital the team are thoroughly familiar with what's on offer.

"We go through the menu with them every day and they ask us questions - their questions are often the customers' questions," says Helen.

The team have had an increasing influence on the Feathers since it came under the new owners.

A couple of weeks after the smoking ban last July most of the team stayed behind until the early hours after the pub shut to help paint and give it a new look.

A regular quiz night on Sundays was the brainchild of barman Toby Daltry after the licensees took the decision to close the kitchen on Sunday evenings.

"All the staff who had finished for the day came back to support the first one," says Helen.

Manager Stuart Rutherford, meanwhile, was responsible for a new pudding club, which takes place every month, with customers emailed details. The team also came into their own on the recent Burns Night, when the booked entertainment failed to show up. Each member of staff read a speech or poem.

So far the Feathers has had no problem attracting new staff.

"Everyone enjoys working here, so they tell their friends," says Helen. And after winning the first monthly Proud of Your People award, it looks like they'll have something else to tell them now…

Are you Proud of Your People?

Let The Publican and Fairy know and you too could win a monthly prize! A £300 cash prize is on offer to the winning team every month - while the nominating licensee gets a Fairy product hamper worth £50 for themselves. All monthly winners will be invited to an awards lunch in November, where one overall winner will be handed a deep clean worth up to £1,500, and a Fairy product hamper worth £100.

Enter your team:

Visit www.thepublican.com/proudofpubs • Ring 020 7955 3780 • Write to Proud of Your People, The Publican, CMPi, Ludgate House, 245 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 9UY Please note this competition is only open to freetraders, tenants and lessees, and our usual competition rules apply.

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