Winterbourne Monkton villagers over the moon as their pub re-opens2019 has started not just with a good news story: "This", the man on the bar stool declared, "is great news". After six years without a pub, Winterbourne Monkton's New Inn is open again.
The New Inn was the centre of village life. Its re-opening just before Christmas has delighted and excited villagers. It has been taken over by a young couple with solid and varied experience in the hospitality industry - Ben and Cody Woodward.
At present they are opening on Friday and Saturday evenings and on Sundays from noon till five o'clock - without serving food. They have a lot of work to do to get the pub fully operational - getting kitchen and B&B rooms up to scratch.
Ben explained: "We're having a very soft launch - with zero advertising - just word of mouth. We had great support when we opened - particularly from the village - and they've followed it through - putting their money where their enthusiasm is!"
On Saturday evening (January 12), one visitor had come to The New Inn from Swindon with her two married daughters was Rachel Matthews. She and her husband had owned and run the pub from 1987 to 1998.
She is delighted to see the pub open again. Those were the days, she said, when breathalysers had not frightened people away and farmers employed many more people: "We were the hub of the village".
Another person enjoying the chattering bar was Rose Pearce - she and her husband are the pub's neighbours. They were a bit apprehensive about the pub re-opening, but are now, she said, pleased as Punch: "The excitement of having the pub open was exceptional. Now we're the envy of surrounding villages."
Vital information: they are serving Shed Head IPA (brewed in Sweden), San Miguel lager, and in bottles beers from Wiltshire's Box Steam Brewery and local ciders. As well as loads of spirits, wines and soft drinks. And the bar is designed for cask ales - which are still to come.
Certainly on Saturday evening the bar was full to overflowing with people - and dogs. The New Inn is close to the centre of the village and as there is no village hall, it was used for all manner of village meetings and events. I was told firmly that you can walk to the pub from anywhere in the village - though it also has a spacious car park.
Serious doubts about the pub's future first arose in 2007 and a campaign at least kept it open. Then it changed hands and it was thought the new owners wanted to turn it into a home or sell it to a developer.
A second campaign was launched in 2012 - SONIC 2 - where SONIC stands, of course, for Save Our New Inn Campaign. The Campaign saved it from becoming a home, but could not keep it open as a pub. It remained closed and on the market.
SONIC 2's chairman, Bill Buxton (also a former chair of the parish council) is very enthusiastic about the new owners and how they are fitting into village life: "With the pub closed, the village has had to work hard to have a social life."
Ben, who is 32 years-old, studied hospitality and business development at Bournemouth University. He is now Operations Manager at the prestigious Lucknam Park Hotel and Spa near Chippenham.
In 2012 he won a Hotel and Caterer's Acorn Award for under-30s' considered bright prospects for the industry's future. He gained a scholarship to Cranfield School of Management's leadership programme and is a member of the Master Innholders.
And, marlborough.news can vouch, he has a great smile and a very friendly way with customers. He is carrying on with his job at Lucknam Park - and spending as much time as he can at the New Inn.
His wife Cody is 27. From thirteen she lived in Chippenham. She met Ben nine years ago when his job brought him to the area. They have been looking for a suitable property for five years - and spotted the New Inn two years ago. They have been married for four years.
Cody has worked in hospitality jobs since she was seventeen - and loves the work. Several customers on Saturday evening told me that she had a winning smile - and, by the by, that she is keen on village life. She is working on getting the village's annual charity auction - called (don't ask!) 'Cabbage Sunday' - back into the pub this autumn: "We love the village - we both like the countryside and the village atmosphere - and they've been very welcoming."
They plan to start providing food once the kitchen upgrade is complete. A number of chefs have expressed interest in bringing their different styles of food to the village.
They plan to get the B&B rooms - one accessible and two upstairs - ready by March or early April, which will be in good time for summer visitors to very-nearby Avebury. There is also a brick outbuilding that needs conversion - they have not yet decided what role it will play in the their plans.
Beyond that, they have plans for camping and glamping and are looking at various types of wooden chalets and shepherd's huts.
One of the priorities is to get more village events back into the pub. An early target is the monthly meetings of the Village Club. Its chairman Tim Pearce explained they had been meeting in the church which can be very cold indeed.
There is a good precedent for Ben keeping his daytime job at Lucknam Park. A grainy black and white photo from the very early 1900s sits on the bar showing a previous owner and her family. She was Sarah Spackman - and she was the New Inn's licensee and she taught at a local school! [Click on images to enlarge them]
There has been some chat about changing the pub's name - at one time in the horse-drawn past it was called The Good Intent and there is now plenty of that about the building. But Ben and Cody think the New Inn should stick. It could, of course, become The New New Inn.
PUB QUIZ FOOTNOTE: Where did Winterbourne Monkton gets its 'monk' from? Apparently it came from the monks of Glastonbury who owned the village for several centuries. Unfortunately the monks turned out to be terrible absentee landlords.