Opening a micropub is not for the faint of heart.
It’s a big leap into the unknown. Choosing the right area and finding the perfect location is a small start. Then you need to start dealing with planning and licensing applications not to mention the work that will go into a fit out. Not forgetting the ever-important name and branding that needs to be done.
In the first of a series of articles about the back-end operations of running a micropub, we speak to Cheryl Bates from the Pepper Pot micropub and rooms. After some objections from residents they have finally been granted all the relevant planning and licensing. Now with the fitout underway they are hoping to open their micropub in February along with, what might be a first, an adjoining B&B!
uk micropubs: Tell us a bit about you and Mark, and what you were doing before you decided to join the micropub revolution?
Cheryl from Pepper Pot: Mark worked on railways since leaving school, in various guises (such as signalling and control room), and I worked in retail for around 18 years, then community care for two years. Back in March we were on a cruise for my birthday, making decisions and we decided to sell our house and find somewhere to open up a micropub, possibly with rooms for a B&B and also our own accommodation. We searched the length and breadth of England from Yorkshire down to Cornwall and found our ideal location was Ulverston in Cumbria.
ukm: Sounds like it must’ve been a life-changing cruise! Why a micropub specifically?
C: We are both active members of CAMRA and have been involved in beer festivals in Birmingham, Dudley, Stourbridge and are both volunteers every year at The Great British Beer Festival at Olympia. We go on regional crawls, mild days and all sorts of real ale and cider eventukm. We have even been to the festival in Barcelona, what a great place that is! We have a couple of brewers who we are pleased to class as our friends, such as Fixed Wheel and Kinver. We like the smaller pubs better – find them really sociable and knowledgeable – rather than the big chainukm. We think we know what will make a good idea become great from our experienceukm.
ukm: Certainly sounds like you’ve got the passion for good beer then! So clearly you spent a lot of time looking at potential locations, why Ulverston?
C: As I said, we looked up and down the country, getting details from estate agents on properties we thought might be good to alter or change to what we wanted to make. Some places were good, some too big, some too seasonal. We have travelled around the country a fair bit for festivals and days out, so knew some places would be too seasonal for trade and some were too quiet, for instance a place we saw in Maryport was lovely but the trade just wouldn’t be there. We whittled it down to three: Ulverston, Kingsbridge and Bispham. Ulverston just “felt” right.
ukm: Right, so tell me a bit about the infamous planning process and application?
C: We put in a pre-planning application for the change of use and the addition of a dormer; this went well and it suggested that it wouldn’t be a problem. When we applied for full planning at the end of July there was a problem with some of the architect’s input to the application, so it had to be re-done (without architect, who vanished). As you know, we then had a lot of opposition from neighbours and some not neighbours, also some nimbys who didn’t want us there. There was a delay in the application department due to resources so we eventually got the planning consent in November, almost four weeks late. We also went before a licensing committee to obtain our premises licence, again with opposition, some four or five people actually turning up. It was a glorious day when we got it, and even more so now we have full planning permission.
Our only issue now is getting everything done and dusted, ready for opening. We were wanting to be open ready for the Ulverston Beer Festival at Coronation Hall in September. Unfortunately, with all the delays we just visited as punters, of course doing some networking while we were there.
ukm: The nimbyism seems to be a common problem we see in lots of planning applications but seemed to be especially challenging for you guyukm. Were you surprised with the volume of objections? What steps, if any, did you take to appeal to the local community?
C: We had been sympathetic neighbour-wise even in what we proposed from the outset. As Mark used to be Birmingham festival organiser and also support the RD for the area within CAMRA structure, he has dealt with planning applications and opposition previously and on a number of occasions. We also have some local input as to attitudes of the locals from our builder.
We entered a pre-planning application, and that brought all good reports back. But when we applied for planning permission for change of use to the former World Peace Café, little did we know that it would cause such a stir with the locals! Almost immediately it was picked up in the local papers such as the West Morland Gazette, and the NWeMail. When the application was live online and neighbours had received the notification, well, the objections just kept on coming, almost daily, and totalled around 19!
We read ALL the comments one by one, and a lot of them didn’t really give a true concern, just that the person complaining said it wasn’t the “right area”, it would be “too noisy with music and drunk people on their doorstep”. We would cause nuisance with deliveries and collections of waste with “big beer barrels” and lots of extra rubbish. Not many of the objectors seemed to have read fully what we intended and actually will be doing. A couple of times we did really wonder if we would be able to achieve our goal.
Our licensing application was almost as controversial as our planning! We did our research well and sought out what reasons would be considered acceptable objections and possibly stand in our way. Noise and possibly air pollution were the biggest ones to overcome. As we aren’t having music, tv, live bands, gaming machines, we knew – sort of – that noise ‘shouldn’t’ be a problem. As we are a “microbar”, then we won’t be having “big barrels” delivered or collected, we will be having small vans to deliver or collect, if we do not do it ourselves. Being a residential area as well as a few businesses that tend to close early evening, we had already decided back in the stages of early planning that we would not open past 10pm except for Fridays and Saturdays, so there would be minimal disruption to residents. We will always be reminding our customers to be aware of their surroundings on leaving the premises, but also bearing in mind that we cannot be held responsible for actions of others once they have left our premises. CCTV will be at the premises, we will make checks around our bar area, with signage clearly stating what is acceptable and not acceptable. No glasses or smoking past the front door at any time, the smoking area out the back, but not as a beer garden.
It was quite a hairy experience when we attended the Licensing Committee meeting on 19th October, more so when we had five of the objectors sitting behind us, and two reporters in the room also. Not being from one of the big chains we couldn’t afford a barrister, so represented ourselves. We had typed out our speeches, and it was a distraction from the nerves to be able to concentrate on the words on a sheet, I can vouch for that!! Although nothing was guaranteed, we did our homework using websites, references from gov.uk and basically any search that came to mind. We didn’t want to set the world on fire, just start our own little bar in a lovely town.
It will be very interesting when we are in and opened! It certainly didn’t deter us though and, to be honest, the neighbours’ complaints were more just about their own feelings and added noise from what they thought we are about. Hopefully they will see for themselves and actually appreciate what might have been had we not taken over the empty premises.
ukm: That’s what we normally see with these objections, once people start to realise what the ethos of a micropub is and what it brings to a community, they soon come around. What’s your current hope around an opening date?
C: Realistically at the moment we are heading for the half term in February. We could get the bar up and running earlier, but the accommodation above and our own living space is what really needs the alterations. From my perspective, I think it would be better to have all done, but at present it could just be the bar opening first. Of course, if we get an earlier date, we will let you know.
ukm: So besides opening in February, what other plans have you got for 2019? You mentioned earlier the possibility of a B&B, is that still a consideration for the future?
C: It is definitely going ahead. That was also one of the criteria for finding the right place. We have three rooms at the Pepper Pot which will all be decorated to a high standard, offering breakfast, either full cooked at set price of £7 or a continental style included in the room price. Snacks for the bar will be made by me, sourced with local produce, just as the breakfast items will be.
You may have already seen in the press that we will not be selling alcopops, shorts, shots etc. If it works (and we have seen that it does) why be any different. We have many CAMRA friends across the country that are waiting for us to open, not to mention some of our family and friends. They will be bringing friends of theirs also to show their support. Some of them that have experience in the trade will be able to give us a break from time to time also. Not ALL of them drink real ale or cider, but we can give them a glass of wine or prosecco, and those that don’t drink will have soft drink or tea/coffee.
We intend to embrace all the festivals that Ulverston holds and I think that dressing the bar and indeed ourselves for some of the special times like Christmas and Halloween may raise an eyebrow or two!! Having done customer service in retail and customer facing roles in the community, I think a bit of fun can draw people in. We will also have a resident charity box on our bar for St Mary of Furness Hospice. This is a local charity that assists people who have life shortening illnesses, providing respite and care.
ukm: Clearly this is a lifestyle choice for you and Mark and it sounds like a big change in your liveukm. How do you think you will measure your success? (Sorry if that seems like a bit of a heavy question!)
C: Don’t worry, we have had spreadsheets instead of tablecloths for a while now! We have done our research, we haven’t overestimated our worth, but it looks like a good proposition especially with the ABC1 demographics of the area. We are not expecting to become millionaires, but if we do, that’s great. We will get a lot of enjoyment, laughs and experience if nothing else.
ukm: Finally, how did you come up with the name?
C: In recognition of the shape and references to the Hoade Monument.
ukm: Ok we’re going to have to go and research that one a bit* as we have no idea what that is but sounds like a local connection which is always good!
C: It certainly is. It was referenced during the war. They were told that their pepper pot was to be bombed. We wanted a local connection, but with a bit of a twist.
We’d like ot thank Cheryl for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk to us. They are currently hard at work with the fit-out and getting the pub and B&B ready not to mention the additional distractions of Christmas and NewYears. We wish them all the best – cheers!
*Hoade Monument was erected in 1850 to commmorate Sir John Berrowman. Berrowman was born in Ulverston and held various government posts and was a founder member of the Royal Geographic Society. The tower is sometimes referred to as “the pepper pot” after propoganda broadcasts during the war warned residents the German Air Force would be bombing their pepper pot.
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