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Trade visit to the Black Country

On 07/03/14 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

I was very privileged to be offered a visit to the Black Country with Richard Matthews, our soon to be retiring Midlands’ Secretary, who has served the industry so well. At the invitation of Stuart Plant and Andy Crump, we went to see three Punch pubs and visited Black Country Ales.

First, we went from Sandwell and Dudley, to the Horse and Jockey in Wednesbury; a community pub with a recent major refurbishment jointly funded by the tenant and Punch. Stuart Plant, senior partnership development manager for Punch, met us there and we had an opportunity to meet Carol and Mark, the licensees who are obviously wonderful pub hosts.

The main focus for the refurbishment is an upstairs function room used for everything from a handbag sale or wedding receptions, to a whole range of tribute bands. Carol and Mark are on a 'Foundation Tenancy'; a five-year arrangement which involves considerable support from Punch, particularly in the first year, to help provide the expertise to make it work. Already, sales are up, and John, their business advisor, was there to help some more.

The next pub was the Archers in Walsall, which was opening the next day after a five-week closure and a major refurbishment. Barry and Nikki are also on a Foundation Tenancy and the wet-led pub has a clear sports focus, with darts and pool. In both cases the designs for the new decor really worked and showed what light and colour can do. I am certain that customers will be wowed by the new look. Barry, the Punch business advisor, is always looking for things to put right before the next visit. A very positive influence!

Final stop with Punch was the Arbor Lights, a very unusual and upmarket venue, almost a restaurant, in the centre of Walsall. Unfortunately, Matt the licensee and Punch partner was not there, but the venue is number six, on Trip Advisor, for Walsall and was rated five out of five for ‘Best of Walsall’. An extremely good lunch if you are ever in the area!

All the licensees raised national issues, such as utility bills, licensing costs and business rates. Rates are a particular issue at the Arbor, showing how much need there is for a review.

I drew so many positives from the visits it would be difficult to list them all, but clearly for all three premises a great relationship with Punch is crucial. They are all thriving businesses run by people who wished they had taken the decision earlier to run a pub. There are challenges in all the areas where they are located, but all are the epitome of a community pub, on the way up, wonderful licensees and show exactly why the tied system works so well.

Finally, on to see Angus McMeeking at Black Country Ales and the Old Bulls Head in Lower Gornal. In the heart of the Black Country they even have a beer called Pig on the Wall; a historic reference to a time when pigs were put on the wall to see a carnival pass by - they must have been quite small! When Angus bought the property it came listed with two outhouses. When he investigated further there was an original brewery dating back to the 1800s! So, Black Country Ales was born and serves their 30 pubs within a half-hour drive.

When you spend so much time fighting for the £100 prize for gaming machines (already making a difference to takings), for extended hours for the World Cup and for help on business rates, as well as of course the continuation of our ability to offer low-entry costs to running your own business; it is wonderful to see the benefits to our members and their own licensees and partners.

Thank you all, for your hospitality.


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