IN ASSOCIATION WITH LONG LIVE THE LOCAL

My Pub: the Dog Inn, Belthorn, Lancashire

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Top dog: Craig Steele had taken early retirement but took the role of licensee
Top dog: Craig Steele had taken early retirement but took the role of licensee

Related tags: Pub, Public house, Restaurant

A co-operative group took over the Dog Inn in 2015 after its closure. Here, Community Benefit Society member Yvonne Brown explains how board member and licensee Craig Steele has made sure this pub is no shaggy dog story.

Facts ‘n’ stats

Name: The Dog Inn

Address: Belthorn Road, Belthorn, near Blackburn, Lancashire, BB1 2NN

Licensee: Craig Steele

Restaurant operators: Jamie Evans and Mark Taylor

Turnover: £17k a month (wet sales and coffee shop) – the restaurant is run as a separate business paying a small rent

The pub

The Dog Inn at Belthorn is believed to have stood as a building for over 300 years, and was the only pub remaining in the village, at least two others having been converted to houses.

Some 15 to 20 years ago, the pub was well-known throughout Lancashire for excellent food, but when the successful landlord left to run another pub, a downward spiral began for the Dog Inn.

In November 2014, the pub closed its doors, having had a string of tenants who had all tried, but failed, to make a success of the pub.

The publican

The initial plan when the pub was purchased by the community was to employ a bar manager to run it for us.

We had varying degrees of success with this, some managers staying over a year, others only a matter of days – all for differing reasons.

When the last manager left in October 2017, one of our board members, Craig Steele, who had just taken early retirement, suggested that he could become a volunteer bar manager – and this is the model we are still using. Although Craig has never run a pub before, he is supported by a large team of paid bar staff, as well as around 40 volunteers.

More recently, the restaurant side of the business has been taken over by two young, dynamic chefs, Jamie Evans and Mark Taylor. Jamie and Mark have both been in the restaurant trade since they left school and have a passion for providing high-quality, locally sourced food at competitive prices, with a strong focus on excellent customer service.

The Dog (2)

The trade, team, drink, food and events

In the early days of community ownership, we relied heavily on trade from village residents, as we were operating with just drinks sales. From the very beginning, we have been serving locally brewed real ales, and are very lucky to have a number of small breweries in the local area. We often run gin or whisky specials, and are looking at expanding our wine offering.

Since the restaurant has reopened, we are now attracting customers from a much wider area so we are trying to provide a balance of community-based activities, while also remaining welcoming for those who have travelled a bit further to enjoy what we have to offer.

Our quiz night, which was set up by our first bar manager, continues to be very popular, both with village residents and with quiz buffs who will travel a bit further for a good quiz. We try to put live music events on every month – these are a mixture of live bands and open mic sessions. Our restaurant enjoys amazing views over the local countryside towards the distant Fylde coast, and all the food, including the deserts and sauces, are made in the kitchen by the chefs. We currently employ 17 local people, both as paid staff behind the bar or in the restaurant, but also as volunteers in our coffee shop.

What’s on the menu?

  • Allotment beetroot salad, deep-fried smoked Lancashire cheese
  • Pan roast lamb loin, Bury black pudding and Maris Piper terrine, pickled vegetable salad and lamb jus
  • ‘Proper Pub Pie’, served with chips
  • Whittaker’s bacon chop, fried Nuttall’s hen’s egg, proper chips and garden peas – midweek special
  • Sunday Roast – example starter; main; and dessert: Lancashire leek & Maris Piper soup with truffle oil; roasted top side of Whittaker’s beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables; home-made crumpets and Lancashire cheese (£2 supplement for house chutney) – £14.50 for two courses; £17 for three courses
The Dog (6)

Community ownership

The pub closed in 2014, and the pub company owners started looking for a new tenant. In early 2015, village residents found out that the pub was going to be sold at auction, and one villager, Kathryn Sharpe, emailed all the contacts she had in the village to suggest that we try to buy (and save) our pub. A public meeting was held in the village school, with more than 40 people in attendance, and it was decided that we should try to pursue this and the Dog Inn Community Action Group was formed.

The pub had always been the heart of the village, since except for the primary school and the Dog Inn, there was nothing left in the village – no church, no village hall, no post office, no shop. People truly believed that without the pub, the village would lose its heart and soul.

However, two days or so before the auction, we found out that the pub had been sold privately to a housing developer.

A few members of the working group that had been formed agreed to try to meet the developer, to see if he would sell the pub to us. He agreed, and we had the target of raising £180,000 in a matter of a couple of months.

The Dog (7)

A community share offer was launched, and initial funding was also received from Plunkett Foundation to help us set up a Community Benefit Society and commission a valuer’s report. A small grant was received from the Duchy of Lancaster that enabled us to buy a printer and stationery, so we could start to print flyers and brochures outlining the share offer.

The pub is now freehold and is owned by around 125 members, mainly from the local community, but some from further afield who support the idea of a community-owned pub.

We managed to meet the tight deadline for raising the money, although some of the legal aspects of the sale took a bit longer but, in September 2015, the pub became Lancashire’s first community-owned pub.

Having been neglected by the previous owners, a significant amount of refurbishment work was required. The ceiling in the bar was removed and replaced, and the décor was altered to give the pub a more modern, airy feel. In the middle of the renovation work, a MacMillan Coffee Morning was held, which was well supported and charity coffee mornings have remained a key feature of the community work that the pub does.

Finally, on 11 November 2015, local charity fundraising hero and village resident Jim Fletcher officially reopened the pub, and the heartbeat was put back in our village. As well as being a pub, we opened a coffee shop, which is extremely popular with the children after school, and their parents.

The Dog (3)

We also converted the upstairs space, which was previously accommodation for the landlord, into a community room, where we host a number of regular events, including: a drama group for local children, which is run by some of the older children for the younger ones; weekly ‘Crafty Giggles’ sessions, where people come to share their crafting fun, and have a chat; monthly church services, as well as regular children’s parties, and other functions.

The restaurant took us a bit longer to bring up to scratch. Having refurbished the bar and coffee shop area purely using volunteers, not surprisingly, they wanted a break – and were perhaps not quite so keen to volunteer now that there was beer to be drunk. So we had to wait until we had a bit more money in the bank before we could refurbish the restaurant. However, this was eventually finished in spring 2017 and, after a variety of operators, we are now pleased to have two fantastic chefs in residence.

Jamie Evans and Mark Taylor have both been in the restaurant trade since they left school, and are incredibly enthusiastic and hard working. Good-quality, locally sourced food is their mantra, and they have been wowing our diners since the end of May 2019.

It has always been our aim to provide employment for local people, and we now employ over a dozen members of staff from within the village.

In June 2019, we were chosen by the Plunkett Foundation to be the host pub for the launch event of their ‘More than a Pub 2’ funding programme. We were amazed that a small village pub would be chosen over other venues in cities such as London, Manchester or Birmingham, but around 50 delegates attended the launch and all were impressed with what the community has been able to achieve.

The Dog

Vital role in the community

Long Live The Local is a campaign that celebrates the vital role local pubs play in our community, culture and economy while highlighting the pressure they face from a range of taxes and the jeopardy of closure. Last year, more than 19,000 pubs supported the campaign.

To show your support for the campaign order your pub kit and sign the petition at www.longlivethelocal.pub

The future

After breaking even during the first two years, the pub is now profitable. The future is secure and the village will have a pub at its heart for as long as local people want it.

The field that belongs to the pub will soon be seeded with wild flowers, to create a wildlife habitat and also an area that can be used for community events, such as our Dog Show, May Day parade, and other parties.

The community room upstairs will be developed further to enable it to be used as a meeting and conference room.

However, our main focus will remain serving excellent food and drink, in a restaurant with one of the best views in Lancashire, while still being the beating heart of our small, semi-rural village.

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