Thursday, 23 September 2021

Cheers! Pub is in safe hands as businessman secures its future

A BUSINESSMAN from Whitchurch Hill has saved the local village pub.

A BUSINESSMAN from Whitchurch Hill has saved the local village pub.

Richard Hazell, the owner of tarmac contractors Hazell and Jefferies, bought the Sun Inn from Brakspear for an undisclosed sum two weeks ago.

The pub operator advertised for new tenants when landlords Christine Mott and Ros Davies announced their departure last month.

Mr Hazell, who grew up on the Hardwick Estate in Whitchurch and has lived in the area all his life, offered to buy the Sun because he wanted to guarantee its future.

The 70-year-old, of Mount Pleasant Farm, said: “When you’re tied to a brewery, it’s quite hard. Free house pubs have a better chance of surviving because they can buy their beer where they like and get better deals and they can do their own food if they like. The landlord will be able to run it as their own business - they will be running it for themselves, not for me. I will be the proprietor and will draw some rent, but I didn’t buy it with the intention of making a profit.

“I guarantee it will remain a pub for as long as I’m alive and hope my family will continue to support that when I’m no longer here.”

Because negotiations between Brakspear and Mr Hazell were held in secret, the company did not announce who would replace the pair.

This led many villagers fearing the company planned to close the Sun and sell the land for housing. Goring Heath Parish Council, which covers Whitchurch Hill, applied for it to be designated an asset of community importance to prevent this.

Mrs Mott said: “It was a relief to find out that it wasn’t going to close. We were in the dark about it as well every time we asked what was going on, we never really got an answer.

“We’re still being asked lots of questions. People are so used to seeing our faces that they’re struggling to get their heads around the fact that we won’t be there any more.”

Mrs Mott, 68, and Mrs Davies, 52, who are mother and daughter and have been in charge for six years, will continue running the pub until new landlord Judith Butler takes over on October 4.

The pair started working at the pub seven years ago, when it was run by Mrs Mott’s son Graham, and took over the following year. They own a house in Binfield Heath and will return there once they step down.

Mrs Mott is retiring and Mrs Davies will continue running her mobile bar business.

Mrs Mott said: “I have to put a lot of hours into running the pub it’s something you eat, sleep and drink. It’s your working life and your social life. I’m finding it increasingly tough as I get older and Ros finds she doesn’t have enough time to see her grandchildren because she’s always working. I made up my mind to leave at the start of this year and Ros followed soon after that. She felt she couldn’t afford to pay someone to work the amount of hours I worked. I have fond memories of working there for the vast majority of the time it’s only become more difficult in the past year or so.

“Looking back, we’ve had some really fun times. It’s the community aspect of it you do get to make a lot of friends.”

Mrs Butler, who was born and grew up in the village said it is a “dream come true” to take over the pub she spent time in as a child.

She said: “I used to have a bag of crisps and a bottle of coke with my dad. It will remain as a country pub serving good food and with a warm welcome for everybody.” This is the second pub Mrs Butler has run and she will be working alongside her daughter Alice.

Meanwhile, the Hazell family also have a history in the pub trade as Richard’s grandfather Edward, who owned a timber haulage firm, also ran the Rifleman pub in Goring Heath in the 1890s. The tavern on Shirvells Hill closed many decades ago and is now a private residence called Rifleman’s Cottage.

Mr Hazell said: “These historic country pubs are an old English tradition and it’s a shame that so many of them are closing.

“They are important places for people to go and meet up, especially older people who find it hard to get to other villages. They need to be protected. My family all used to go to the Sun when I was a child and I know it very well. If it closed, there would be nowhere else for people in the village to go.”

David Nathan, finance director at Brakspear, said: “It was never our intention to sell the pub at any time.

“When the current tenants told us they would not be renewing their lease, we started looking for new tenants as we do with the vast majority of our pubs. However, we were made an offer which made commercial sense, so we accepted it.”

Goring Heath Parish Council chairman Peter Dragonetti said: “The Sun is well used and an essential part of our village. It is the only pub left in the parish. It will be great to have it continuing and we hope that its character will be retained.”

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