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Pubs of Ulster Annual Award

On 24/11/14 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

BBPA has a formal memorandum of understanding with Pubs of Ulster. We have worked hard with Colin Neil and his Chairman Mark Stewart on policy areas of mutual interest and with their Westminster MPs on our beer duty campaign.

I was therefore delighted to be asked to be one of the judges for this year’s Pubs of Ulster Awards, which were announced in Belfast last week, and to be offered a tour of Stormont as part of a 24 hour stay.

Although I have been to both the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, I had not before visited the Northern Ireland Assembly. Built in 1928 in Portland stone, Stormont resembles Buckingham Palace and stands on a hill, majestically overlooking the city. Its architect, Sir Arnold Thornley, was knighted by the Prince of Wales on the front steps on day the building opened and during the Second World War the Senate rooms became the headquarters of the RAF. The outside of the building was covered in a mixture of bitumen and cow dung so it could not be seen. It was not bombed, but it took 30 men, seven years to clean it off!

Greg Mulholland MP was also a guest, and so too was Charlie Lawson (Jim McDonald in Coronation Street), who is looking to film in pubs in the Province. Whilst, as many of you will know, I do not watch much television other than sport, many in the NI Assembly do. I cannot imagine going into a Public Accounts Select Committee in Westminster to observe and having the Committee Chair stop the proceedings to welcome a celebrity, but it does show politics in a very human light!

After lunch we visited a series of pubs with cross-party members of the Assembly in the Cathedral quarter of Belfast which all had a great atmosphere - I learned to pour a perfect pint of Heineken!

And so, to the awards. I was part of a judging panel for three categories and was delighted that, despite a rigorous second stage process, all my recommendations won! In the best hotel bar, the Adair Arms in Ballymena has a community bar which hosts language classes and book clubs. They have live entertainment with traditional Irish music sessions each week. The great Ulster Pub's Week took place from 1st to 9th May. Some 160 pubs took place with 85 per cent seeing increased footfall and 77% reporting a rise in turnover. The winner in this category was the Grande National Cafe in Belfast which held a national craft beer and food festival with street performances and barbecue. They served smoked salmon chowder in edible bread bowls. Finally the best charity event went to Sally's, inspired by a previous owner who died of prostate cancer. Events included 200 cyclists covering 200 miles in two days and over 20 members of staff taking part in the Belfast Marathon. Over £33,000 was raised. There were some wonderful entries and inspiring stories.

I must pay tribute to Mark Stewart who is stepping down as Chairman of Pubs of Ulster this year and so this was his last awards ceremony. He has quietly and very competently provided the operator's support to Colin Neill, their excellent CEO. I have met Mark several times in London and it would certainly be worth visiting his pub, the Coachman at Magherafelt, if you ever have the chance.


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