Remember the story of The White Swan community pub in Gressenhall? With the complete refurb going well, the team is on the lookout for a talented couple to run it. And, as Alex Begg promises, they will not be reporting to some sort of Vicar of Dibley style committee!
The new windows are in and the old cart shed is now home to a new woodfired pizza oven – it would be fair to say that there have been some big changes for The White Swan community pub in Gressenhall in Norfolk since Alex Begg and the team picked up the keys earlier this year.
And now, after more than 3000 hours of volunteer-time, they are on the lookout out for an enthusiastic and talented couple to run it!
To recap, The Swan, which had been serving the village for more than 200 years, closed its doors in 2018 and the community was in the process of trying to buy it and renew its role at the heart of the village.
Fundraising events and a pop-up pub, The Cygnet, helped raise awareness and money prior to a community share offer launch in September 2020.
The Save our Swan campaign had begun in earnest and within 24 hours they had raised £50,000 – in the end, community shares were bought by 430 investors.
With the added help of a generous grant of £50,000 from The Plunkett Foundation and a £50,000 loan from Key Fund, the pub was purchased in January 2021 and work began on its transformation.
‘By February we’d got the keys and were able to look at the big path ahead,’ says Chair of Gressenhall Community Enterprise, Alex. Then, once planning permission was in place, the real hard work was about to begin.
There’s been a complete redesign of the interior, including of the kitchen. Alex says: ‘We’ve improved the layout to make the kitchen a little bit more ergonomic and much more functional. Whilst it’s a small kitchen, we’ve finetuned the space as much as we can.’
As for the layout of the main building as a whole, he says: ‘The idea is to make it a natural and seamless layout, which works for customers and all the team who will be providing the experience.
‘One of the things we are really excited about is we’ve realigned the front door back to where it used to be, pre-fifties,’ says Alex. ‘It will be a warm and welcoming first impression – that’s what we are hoping for.’
Even the new toilets are worth mentioning. A grant from The Prince’s Countryside Fund was used to build accessible facilities, enabling the pub to be a fully inclusive space for the whole community to enjoy. Alex says: ‘We think it’s particularly important in rural Norfolk, with an aging population – they can enjoy the space as much as anyone else.’
He adds: ‘The other thing we’ve been really busy with is creating an exciting new feature out of basically what was a disused outbuilding.’
The cart shed has had a complete refurb. ‘We’ve put a damp course in, reroofed it, repointed the brick work and added an additional seating area. Plus there’s a separate kitchen which accommodates a woodfired pizza oven.’
The cart shed transformation, and the extra dining area it offers, is something the team is ‘super proud’ of, and, as Alex comments: ‘It will really good for larger group bookings.’
As well as getting the builders in (RW Duffield, to be precise), Alex adds: ‘We have done as much as possible through our very capable and enthusiastic team of volunteers.’ This last weekend, for example, a group set about upholstering the pub chairs.
The whole process has had its challenges, as Alex lists: ‘Lack of available materials, massive price inflation, and delays left right and centre.’
But they are certainly getting there. ‘It’s coming together,’ he says. Now, they are looking for a talented manager/chef couple to run The White Swan early in the new year. Live-in, rent-free accommodation is available with a newly refurbished two bed flat above the pub.
Alex says they hope to offer the successful couple ‘a good work life balance – giving people working at the Swan a rest from what is a high intensity industry. It’s really important.’ One potential idea is giving them Monday and Tuesday off – and getting in standalone chefs to cover on those days, so there’s a food offering seven days a week.
There’s a lot hinging on the recruitment push. ‘Our aim is to have a manager and a chef appointed so we can begin trading in earnest in the beginning of February. We are really trying to identify the ideal fit this side of Christmas and we want to give them plenty of time to make that transition.’
Alex adds: ‘We are ideally looking for a couple with some front of house and managerial experience but very importantly we are looking for a capable and reliable chef. It’s getting that fit for the vision of what we are trying to do.’ Once the pub is open, the aim is to offer a menu full of quality dishes, with locally-sourced ingredients.
‘We are looking for people who really identify with doing something that provides a high and consistent level of customer service – and who buy into the ethos of community spirit.’
Because it’s a community business, Alex is conscious that some would-be applicants might assume they would be ‘reporting to a Vicar of Dibley committee. That’s a perception we really need to quash.
‘At the moment we do have, and will continue to have, a management board that works in a voluntary capacity – that would be there purely to empower and support a management couple to be successful. We aren’t looking to wade in on any minutiae. We are very much looking to let people have the autonomy.’
He reports that they have had a good few expressions of interest so far. The branding for The White Swan is ‘a great pub, a greater community’. As Alex concludes, ‘is not your standard pub job.’
Visit www.thewhiteswangressenhall.co.uk and follow on Facebook The White Swan Gressenhall, Twitter @SwanGressenhall and Instagram @TheWhiteSwanGressenhall. If you are interested in applying for the managerial/chef role at The White Swan, please sent a CV to email@example.com
Featured image: Alex and Rosie Begg, painting the exterior of The White Swan pub