Community pub hosts MBE awarding ceremony

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Pub setting: John Mills receives his MBE from Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire, Elizabeth Fothergill, while the BBC films the ceremony
Pub setting: John Mills receives his MBE from Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire, Elizabeth Fothergill, while the BBC films the ceremony

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A former dentist who became a leading light in funding research into vasculitis has been honoured in what is believed to be a first for the pub industry.

Terminally ill John Mills has received an MBE at the Old Bowling Green pub, Winster, in the Peak District from Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire, Elizabeth Fothergill, because he was too poorly to travel to Buckingham Palace.

Licensee of the Winster pub David Bentley said: “This highlights the role of the pub in local communities and we also wonder if this is a precedent? Can any other pub claim the honour of being the first to host the awarding of an MBE?”

Mills was diagnosed with vasculitis – a condition that causes inflammation of blood vessels – in 2010 and discovered that little was known of the rare illness; a small support group existed but Mills and wife Sue took it over and transformed it into what is now a major player in funding research into the illness – Vasculitis UK.

Bentley said: “John is a very popular character and is well liked and very much respected. His appearance naturally led him into being Father Christmas at a number of events.

“John and Susan are regulars and, during Covid, became frequent takeaway customers, which they have continued as John is not well enough to be a regular visitor.”

Local presentation

He explained John has been diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer, which is causing his problems today.

Bentley, who has operated the site for 33 years with wife Marilyn, continued: “His MBE recognises his work for vasculitis. When it became apparent John would not be well enough to travel to the palace, another regular – Deputy Lord Lieutenant Susan Welch MVO – quickly organised the presentation to be made locally, and John asked for it to be done here.

“The Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire Elizabeth Fothergill agreed to come along and perform the ceremony on behalf of the King.”

On the day, reporters from radio and newspapers attended, together with BBC TV, which featured the ceremony on East Midlands Today News, and around 40 of John’s close friends were in attendance for the private presentation.

Afterwards, an open house was announced for everyone else to come and congratulate John with the pub providing a buffet and bubbly.

Honour was ours

“We feel we received an honour on that day – when John chose us to host this most important event,” said Bentley. “We have received excellent coverage in the regional TV and John’s comment on TV that ‘the refreshments are probably better here than at the palace’ have been widely circulated and repeated.”

He added this type of event underlines the importance of the pub in the community and explained the Old Bowling Green is “in the heart of the village both geographically and in spirit”.

Like many in the on-trade, the pub has been forced to adopt a different business model to survive. Bentley explained: “Prior to the pandemic, we were predominantly a dining pub, in fact, a restaurant. We were fully booked on Friday and Saturday evenings, which meant there was no room for locals to gather for a casual drink.

“Our takeaway business built up during the lockdown and we took the radical decision to continue with this and not serve meals in the bars. We replaced the dining tables with small socialising round tables. We did not realise how successful this move would be.”

Despite a couple of complaints, the pivot has proved to be an “outstanding success” and the pub is now full on a Friday and Saturday evening with socialising drinkers while it continues to send out takeaway meals made in its kitchen.

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