It was the moment his twins started taking their first steps that Chris Driver, owner of the Derry in Long Newton, County Durham, set a plan in motion to convert his pub’s rather average beer garden into something more spectacular.
“I struggled to find somewhere to take my children that was child friendly,” he says, “They were about 18 months old and had started walking. I’d get looks from people, that said ‘why are you taking them out to a restaurant?’ so I wanted to create a dining space outside at my pub where families would feel comfortable and where children had things to interact with.”
While his family’s circumstances provided the motivation for Driver’s plan to create an appealing outdoor space, it was the imminent arrival of the 2018 FIFA World Cup that was the catalyst to start.
Birth of the dining pods
Work to convert the 250ft ‘bit of grass with some garden tables’ into his dream space started in March with the laying of some decking to create a terraced area featuring rattan tables and chairs. Driver, who had taken on the pub’s leasehold from Star Pubs & Bars in late 2016, continued by constructing three small wooden sheds, which he planned to transform into interactive ‘dining pods’.
“We made the table tops out of chalkboards so children can draw on them, installed TV screens showing Sky Sports and built retro games consoles – one’s a Mega Drive, one’s a NES and one’s a SNES – into them,” he continues. The first phase of work on the Derry’s outdoor space continued with the laying of artificial turf where more traditional-style picnic benches would sit, planting, and the building of a log cabin that would house an outdoor bar and pizza oven.
Complete and summer-ready
Driver also invested in a rolling screen on which to show the forthcoming football tournament, a new children’s play area and Birra Morretti taps placed outside each of the dining pods.
By May, the bulk of the work had been completed and Driver and his team were ready to welcome customers to the pub’s interactive, multifunctional and child friendly outdoor space.
Although the Derry’s garden was ‘summer-ready’ in May, Driver has continued to develop the space, adding pool tables, table tennis tables and installing a Mr Whippy ice cream machine, slushie machine, nacho and hot dog makers, and new refrigerators in the outside bar.
“It’s a continual thing,” he says, estimating that he’s spent £50,000 so far on the work.
“I didn’t set a budget, I just kept going until I got to where I wanted and just keep adding bits and bobs as I go to keep it fresh.”
Return on investment
This approach to budget might seem cavalier to some, but Driver, whose pub picked up the Best Outdoor title at this year’s Star Pubs & Bars’ Star Awards, is already seeing return on his investment.
“It brings people in and we’re now one of the busiest pubs in the area. If we have a good summer this year, it’ll completely set me back up again. As a leaseholder, you sometimes wonder why you’re paying out so much but I’d do this again, without a doubt.”
Like Driver, Dane Allchorne was uninspired by the gardens at the Ei Group Kent pub he and his wife Sarah took over in 2013, so five months after work was completed on the Milk House’s interior, they turned their attention to the exterior.
The couple employed a local landscaper to help them make the most of the half-acre plot of land that encircles their Sissinghurst property.
“We’re surrounded by vineyards, orchards and National Trust gardens, so we wanted to fit into that environment, but also create a practical trading area where we could put in an outdoor bar,” Allchorne explains.
Annual food and music festival
Two months later, the Milk House’s outdoor space was transformed. The couple created a terraced area, paved with Indian sandstone and boxed off by a border of grass, plants and trees.
Beyond a fenced-off duck pond lies a children’s play area. On the terrace, used principally as an alfresco dining area, there are wooden tables with a 17m long, 35-seater sharing table forming its centrepiece. The terrace also houses a pizza oven and an outside bar.
Although spend ‘went north’ of the £60,000 budget Allchorne had set, like Driver he’s already seeing a return on his investment, predominantly because it has given the pub an area to host Milk Fest, an annual food and music festival that attracts 4,500 people during the August bank holiday weekend.
“We went over budget because we decided to introduce an outdoor pizza oven and build the outside bar, plus the play equipment was beyond eye-wateringly expensive for some reason, but I’m really happy with the end result and it’s really grown into its own,” says Allchorne.
“At Milk Fest, the outdoor space really comes into its own. We cover the whole terrace with a floating sail and have a pop-up portable bar. It’s on wheels so we can move it quite easily. Then we’ve got the pond and the children’s play area to give space to families.”
Sounding out hustle and bustle
The metropolitan setting of Flight Club in Victoria, London, couldn’t be further removed from the Milk House’s village one. Nevertheless, like Allchorne, Flight Club founder Steve Moore wanted to make the most of the 2,500sq ft outside space it inherited when it acquired the site at Victoria’s Nova last year.
“Outdoor space in London is such a hot commodity and we realise we’re very fortunate to have the terrace, so we wanted to make the most of that too,” he says.
Flight Club’s inherited outdoor space was a grey block-paved terrace surrounded by granite walls, a backdrop that was very much at odds with Flight Club’s Victorian fairground-style, so the company worked on finding a way of enhancing the outside area to complement its interior.
“Our design was a nod to Victorian era gardens – impressive community spaces, created to inspire happiness with gardening and architecture but also with hidden delights,” explains Moore. “We constructed a living wall at either end of the terrace to enclose the space from the hustle and bustle of central London as well as artificial grass, rows of plants and a beautiful tree to bring the space to life.”
The terrace also features two ‘uniquely decorated’ sheds, seating, a disco phone box, a bandstand, festoon lighting and bunting.
Add value and boost trade
Although transformation of Flight Club Victoria’s outdoor space – named The Magic Gardens – formed part of the multimillion- pound investment into the new site, it wasn’t an entirely straightforward task, as Moore explains.
“For us, it’s important that our venues add value for everyone – our business, our guests and the community we’ve joined. So, we had this ridiculously ambitious project to complete but we had to find a way to do this effectively without damaging or negatively impacting the environment, our neighbours or the building fabric itself. As a result, all our outdoor structures are self-supporting, and we craned in the cabins to minimise disruption where possible.”
Despite the work involved, the terrace at Flight Club Victoria is helping boost trade even before its first summer.
Fantastic for special events
Indeed, while there’s no doubt that shaping up a pub’s outdoor space is an effective way to improve business during the summer months, with some clever planning, there’s no reason why it can’t do the same at other times of the year.
“We’ve designed The Magic Gardens to be used all year round, with heaters for the winter and plenty of outdoor seating to enjoy our signature slushie cocktails outside in the summer,” says Moore. “We opened at the end of November, but the terrace has already been really popular.”
“I was keen to design the space so it could be used all year round,” adds Driver.
“The Derry’s garden now gets much more use than it had before. Last year, we had a cracking summer, which helped, but it had good use for at least five months of the year. Bonfire night is huge here. We open up the outdoor bar and serve food outside while customers listen to a jazz band and watch fireworks.
Having a space like ours is fantastic for a special event like that.”