The long service award – from the pub’s owners, Star Pubs & Bars – recognised the contribution Paul has made to the town and the pub. One of the last traditional locals in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the Bowling Green is a hub of the community, hosting events to bring people together, fundraising for good causes and putting on music nights that have helped launch many local bands.
Paul – who turns 70 in November – is not calling time yet and has just extended his lease at the Bowling Green for another five years, so that he can reach his goal of clocking up four decades.
You have spent 35 years in the pub market. What attracted you to this pub and why are you staying for another five years?
I’d looked at loads of pubs. Although the Bowling Green was tired, when I walked in I knew it was ‘the one’. I must have looked at 50 pubs before I decided on this one. But it is about finding somewhere that feels right for you. Everything about it and the regulars felt right. I never dreamed I’d be here so long. I’ve never looked back; I love it here.
What are the biggest changes you have seen over those 35 years?
When I first came here there was all little pubs and inns in the area and everybody got on with each other. Now they have all been knocked about and made into massive open areas that don’t have the same feel about them.
We used to close for couple of hours in the afternoon so you got all the dinner time crowd, which round here meant you got the end of one shift of the miners as they came off. It was just a matter of opening the doors in those days and everyone just poured in. Put a tray of cobs on the bar and they were all happy.
In the evenings, you used to have all the teams but people just don’t seem that interested in the teams like they used to be. I think it is because of the shift patterns that everyone is working, and the fact you can’t drink and drive. That makes a lot of them more reluctant to join in things if they have to travel around a bit.
The consumer has changed and pubs were all about beer in them days. Now it is ‘can I have gin and what flavour is that?'
Would you enter the pub market today?
It is a lot tougher now but I have found over the years you don’t get anything by sitting on your backside. I spent a lot of money improving the premises during lockdown. If the brewery sees you making an effort they will too.
How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect you and the pub?
A couple of the younger customers decided to set up a collection of food and other items to distribute. We have a couple of stables around the building and we set one of those out. Local companies like KP, Tesco and the butchers donated. The two lads and their wives helped to deliver to those in need and I gave them petrol money to help as they were on furlough.
We found people from down south were ringing up and saying that our parents live up there, they have problems at the moment and can’t get out to do shopping. Some of the older people were embarrassed to ask for help and their kids were getting in touch. We had one couple when we went to see them that had nothing. It was good that people were trying to help each other. It was amazing. We did this for about three months and then when things calmed down the local food bank took over.
It was the first Christmas I had off for 35 years. The pub is normally open until 1.30pm then I close and make Christmas dinner. It was heart-breaking to be closed at Christmas for the first time in 35 years. The pub felt very empty and quiet, and I missed all the banter and chat as much as the regulars did.
How have things been since reopening?
I have found we are selling more spirits than we are beer at the moment. Even with the football the customers were going though vodka like it was out of fashion.
It is a different type of client at the moment. A lot of the older customers are still have not got brave enough to come out. They will come back but it will take a while.
The first time we unlocked after lockdown, it went nuts and we couldn’t keep up with it. People were climbing over the fence to get in. It was ridiculous. This time it has been different as people have been a bit better behaved and we make them behave. On a Sunday we have started our live music again and the locals are starting to come back. They are saying that they don’t want to be out on the Friday and Saturday nights at the moment.
What are the biggest challenges to trading at the moment?
It is building up consumer confident in the wake of Covid-19 and getting people back into the routine of going the pub again. People have got so used to going to the supermarket now and they can just buy a load of cheap booze.
What is your favourite thing about running a pub?
It has to be the people. When we do events the atmosphere you get is incredible.
People respected the pub a lot more in the old days. But we are lucky with the youngsters in our pub. If someone comes in the pub today and starts messing about they will tell them: “You don’t come here and mess with our local.”
One of the nice things is when someone comes in with a new baby and their grandparents were in here when I first came in here.