My Pub: Great British Pub of the Year 2017, Eagle & Child

By Georgina Townshend contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Great british pub, Public house

At the beginning of September, Glen Duckett, landlord of the Eagle & Child, in Ramsbottom, Lancashire, lifted the award for Best Pub of the Year in the Great British Pub Awards 2017, after first being named Partnership Pub of the Year. Here, Duckett explains what it takes to manage the best pub in the UK.

The pub

“I’ve had the pub six years now and it didn’t look anything like this when I took it over. It was all boarded up and it had an acre of overgrown, bramble-covered, fly tip land with it – which is now our incredible, edible, beer garden.

“It had quite a bad reputation for being a drugs pub, and being a bit of a dive."

READ MORE:​ THE EAGLE & CHILD WINS JOHN SMITH'S GREAT BRITISH PUB OF THE YEAR 2017

“But I saw the potential in it, it’s quite a classy old building, loads of space there. And we have got a good market around us for a decent pub food offering.

“And, because we had this acre of land that was south-west facing, I knew it would be great for growing fruit and vegetables and to also have a beer garden – because there are no good beer gardens here either."

Because we in invest in staff, and get that quality right, the customers have a good experience. It’s a really nice place to be, whether you are a customer or a member of staff and that’s really important.

– Glen Duckett, landlord, Eagle & Child

“One of the key reasons for setting the business up was as a regeneration project because pubs were being boarded up and closed down, yet they should be at the heart of their local community.

“We also had the highest number of youth unemployment, so I set up the pub with an aim to support young people who are marginalised in some way, [and get them] in to work, and that’s what we have done in the past six years".

Glen.Duckett.2.000

The publican

My first proper job was when I was 14 and I worked in a restaurant called Northcote Manor, which is in Blackburn. It’s got a Michelin star and it was very reputable at that time. I subsequently worked in other neighbouring hotels and pubs, bars and restaurants. I started in the kitchens back in the old days when they used to throw pans, so it was kind of an eye-opener to the world of working in hospitality, but I really enjoyed it. When I was at university, probably the most famous person I worked for was Delia Smith.

But then I moved into regeneration as a profession. At university I studied environmental sciences. So, I went working in the coalfield villages of the north-east and did a lot of community and youth and environmental regeneration projects, supporting people to get into work, dealing with youth nuisance, before moving on to work for the youth offending service in Gateshead, which was challenging.

I used to manage all the restorative justice work, including dealing with young people and bringing them together with the victims, carrying out community projects.

Then I worked for environmental charity Groundwork, it does a lot of work with marginalised people.

I subsequently went to work for a smaller charity, which was a bad move. When the recession hit and all the cuts came in, my job was up for redundancy. So, it gave me a bit of a kick up the backside to set up my own business.

I decided I wanted to bring the catering side of my experience into play alongside all my regeneration experience in terms of looking at a pub model and getting it to work, seeing it as a
project and dealing with social and community issues, while running a successful business.

The trade

Our customers range from babies right through to older, retired people. We are very much a family venue, especially at weekends. Then in the evening, it is an adult dining and pub environment, so we have got everything right now.

We have had an extension and refurbishment recently, which has really increased our bar space. We have that real pub feel again, and we have a designated drinking space again, rather than everywhere just being for eating. But, with the new orangery, we have fabulous views, a real smart, dining space for people to come and enjoy a good meal. The food offer we have is really good as well. We now have five bedrooms, so we cater for business people during the week mainly and then leisure and short-break customers at weekends – people going to weddings, people visiting Ramsbottom for the weekend.

The team

We have 26 members of staff, including part timers. We have got five full time in the kitchen and six full time in front of house, including housekeeping, and have got six young people on apprenticeships, working towards level 2 and level 3 and have just advertised another three vacancies.

The food

To us, it’s really important that we look at local provenance, so as well as growing our own food here in the garden, we have another site in Manchester, which is a horticultural centre with another 20 hens. We use that site to grow veg to put on our menu. The upshot is we have sustained our supply of greens and leaves throughout the spring and summer, which is great, and still continue to do so.

We use all local suppliers, our food tends to come from Lancashire or the north-west as much as possible, although some stuff comes from Yorkshire. Some things, of course, you need to source from abroad, like lemons and limes, but most food we try to get from the north-west region to minimise our food miles and boost our green credentials.

We eat with the seasons. For example, Sunday lunch we only decide on a couple days before, because we tend to talk to our suppliers about what is fresh, what’s in, what’s current, what’s good and what’s local, and then we build the menus around that. The food offer really is a mix of what you would expect to see in a pub, so you’ve got burgers, fish and chips, pub classics, and then more refined à la carte dishes that tend to take you to gastropub standards. 

The drink

We are predominately cask ale and wine-led. Our cask ales are mainly Daniel Thwaites. They are producing great beers that they only sell now in Thwaites pubs. We still have the likes of Wainwright and Bomber, and other original things. But, we tend to get the Thwaites seasonal ales because they are really popular.

And for us, the gin craze is just phenomenal really. We have gone from having two gins when we opened to having 13 now. We also have a selection of different tonics and we use all the botanicals, stuff out of the garden, edible flowers, herbs, etc., in the gins to create a ‘wow’ experience for people.

In addition we have some quirky cocktails that we offer as well. One of our favourites is rhubarb Mojito.

The rooms

We have five bedrooms and they are all themed around owls. The reason for this is because we are the Eagle & Child, and obviously eagles are birds of prey, while birds of prey in the night are owls. So, we thought rooms, night, go to bed, that’s when the owls come out. Also, it gave us an opportunity to design the rooms individually in a bespoke manner.

So, we have two suites – tawny owl and barn owl – which are totally different, although both have stunning views. Then we have three standard rooms – eagle owl, little owl, and long-eared owl.

We have had great feedback on the rooms, we have got 9.6 out of 10 on booking.com, which is great. We have the highest rated venue in Bury, so I am really pleased with how they are going.

And, we have worked our way up from 50% occupation capacity, to about 74% capacity, which is also great. I want to get us up to 80%, which would be brilliant.

The events

We run all sorts of events. For example, the other week we had a line-up of events. We had a beer-tasting evening in the garden at the outdoor bar, where the Thwaites head brewer came and gave a talk on the beer-making process. On the Friday night, we did a sunset session where we had a DJ in the garden playing Ibiza-style music – we get a great sunset over the back. And then on the Sunday we had a clubbing with your kids event outside in the garden – we get DJs in and parents with kids come and it’s like a club night, but done on a Sunday afternoon. Everyone can have a drink and a party. We decorate the garden and it looks brilliant. 

The future

"One of the main things is to maximise the space in the garden. [We will do this] by putting in the outdoor dining area, improving the children’s play area because that is really popular, and put a proper fixed bar in rather than just our temporary bar.

"[At the moment] we have a stone bar but want to build it properly so that we have got it as it is inside with all the fonts, and it can be open 365 days if it needs to be. Then we will get a reputation for being a great outside space as well.

"I think focusing on that will be quite a big project to get right, in combination with what we are doing inside, as well as keeping standards high and expectations met."

What makes the pub special?  

"You get a really warm welcome when you come in and we have high standards of service and food quality and, because morale is high among the team, they feel valued and invested in because we do a lot of training.

"We support our staff, looking at their work-life balance, structuring their job around that as well as having to do the job that they are there to do.

"Because we in invest in staff, and get that quality right, the customers have a good experience. It’s a really nice place to be, whether you are a customer, or a member of staff, and that’s really important.

"That’s probably the reason why people feel valued whether they are a customer of member of staff – and it creates a great atmosphere."

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