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Stoke Ferry accolade all comes down to the local pub

In his weekly The Bar Man column, Jeff Hoyle discusses community pubs…

It’s official, or at least as official as a news release from online site Next Door gets, that Stoke Ferry is the country’s best neighbourhood. How might a low-profile town in Norfolk achieve this accolade? It all comes down to the local pub, the Blue Bell.

Three or four years ago this was a semi-derelict rotting ruin, made worse by a water leak that ruptured the tank in the loft and flooded the interior. Rather than letting it go for housing, the community banded together to raise money to buy the property by selling shares (full disclosure – I bought a few), sourcing grants and recruiting a huge number of volunteers to help with the work.

The Blue Bell had a cosy and quaint feel to it which made it feel welcoming
The Blue Bell had a cosy and quaint feel to it which made it feel welcoming

According to the press release and my observations, coming together to carry out the project was as important as the pub itself. Almost two years since it opened, what has the pub to offer to the community?

The over 60s lunch club and the kids eat free scheme during the school holidays are a clear benefit to many families. There is a games night and a family fun craft day. Regular monthly quizzes raise money for local charities, £120 for the True’s Yard Museum in March.

The live music sessions have been complemented by karaoke evenings, and there is a craft workshop featuring pottery painting and a Mexican-themed food and drink evening. All that happens in April. Many people, of course, will just turn up for the cask ale, daytime café or regular food offering, and avid readers may have noticed the glowing review in the Lynn News recently by one of the reporters on the paper.

It’s not the only pub that has such a community focus. We recently presented our branch Cider Pub of the Year Award to the Live and Let Live in Lynn. While we were there, the regular Sunday afternoon raffle was taking place, raising well over £200 for local charities, bringing the monthly total to almost £900.

As I left, they were making arrangements to deliver one prize to the door of a winner who could not carry it on her bicycle. There may not be as many organised events, but food and beer deliveries during lockdown and the legendary street parties that have taken place recently paint a picture of a staff who know their customers and will do their best to keep an eye on them and help out where necessary.

I have been tasked to write an article for the next edition of Norfolk Nips about community pubs in our West Norfolk area and surely these two will feature. Where else? Probably the Wellington at Feltwell who scored ten in the community category when it was up for our Pub of the Year award.

Maybe Ashill White Hart which did so much alongside so many others when the village was devastated by a fire in 2022 which destroyed 11 homes. There are others, but sadly I feel that such pubs are in decline.

How many Norfolk locals have been transformed into gastropubs, which in some cases are more like upmarket restaurants than village locals? The Live and Let Live is an old-fashioned street corner pub in the suburbs, one of few remaining in Lynn after years of closures.

If you are lucky enough to have a local pub or club, support the events, or even organise them. As an experiment, I ran a quiz at Runcton Holme Social Club which attracted a decent crowd. ‘When’s the next one?’, they asked. June 5 is the answer. Be there.


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