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Lyn & I (Yvonne) were running a Church “community” café in Dulwich.  It was a brand new extension (lottery funded) onto the front of Christchurch Church, 263 Barry road, Dulwich SE22.  It was called The Bread of Life Café (named by the parishioners), and the opposite side hosted a Fair Trade Shop.  Lyn was headhunted to run it, due to her extensive links with the community and all her previous work done for Southwark Council as Chair of the Kingswood Tenants Association.  It was opened by MP Tessa Jowell, and Linda Barker (of changing rooms fame) in 2004.  We had been there for 4 years. (the project) 

Lyn was a Londoner through and through, having been born and bred there.  I had reached the stage where London’s magic had become stale for me.  The bright lights of London’s vibrant West End were no longer a draw.  I thought the neighbourhoods were looking tired, traffic congestion was increasing so much that a simple journey to work just gave you road rage or anxiety.  I didn’t like the escalation in crime across the board.  Lyn’s family had spent their childhood holidaying to Great Yarmouth, and we’d talked about relocating there to run maybe a café/restaurant or bed and breakfast.  Lyn’s husband Mick was hoping to be offered early retirement or redundancy, so together we all thought a move away was achievable.  But, like everything else, we were sort of “comfy” in our environment, and dragged our feet a bit – it was more of a pipe dream than a goal.

Then Lyn’s daughter Danielle became pregnant with her first child.  They ended up living with Mum & Dad, so their beautiful three bed room place in Dulwich became quite overcrowded.  Danielle (& her partner Rob) didn’t want to bring up their daughter in London.  Lyn came from a large family (seven children in all).  Lyn’s brother Tony had moved to Kent years before, and lived in Rolvenden.  During a family phone call, Tony said that the local Pub in Rolvenden was up for “grabs”, and asked his sister if she would be interested in throwing her hat into the ring to take over running it.  Lyn had been to the Pub before when we did the catering for Tony’s 60th birthday party at the local village hall.  What started out as food for 60 guests realised into 250!  The night of the bash, the Rugby world cup was being televised, and Lyn being the sports guru that she is couldn’t resist sneaking down to the Star to watch it.  In fact, once there, turns out so were many of the other “guests”!   

Tony, in his past had run pubs in London, so he had experience of the wet trade, cellar work etc.  The proposed model was that Tony would run the Bar, and Lyn and I would run the catering.  So, we came down to Rolvenden to have a look. That was the start of the new adventure, and the springboard we’d all needed.  We stayed at the London Beach Hotel, and completed a recce of the Pub etc.  It was a tenanted house, the brewer being Greene King.  Tony canvassed local opinion about us taking over, the feedback was positive.  So, we all took the plunge, and after quite a lot of form filling in, credit checks, inventories, etc we were successful in being given the keys. The place was an absolute mess.  The previous incumbent had lost the trade and interest of the locals.  We took the pub on Tuesday 18th March 2008, and there hadn’t been a dray delivery since January, and the food trade had died long before that.  The pub was failing.  So, we had our work cut out.  

I moved into live in the flat above the Pub, leaving my London flat temporarily empty.  Lyn stayed in London, and continued to run the Café in Dulwich, joining us all here at the week ends.  Tony and Lyn’s extended family helped to clean the place up, it really was a full blown family affair.  We closed for 3 days – which was a risk Tony didn’t want to take. We all scrubbed and cleaned, and then scrubbed and cleaned again.  Stevie painted the ceiling, which was a dark red ruby colour reminiscent of the days when smoking was allowed inside Pubs.  We took down hop vines which were well past their sell by date, and mostly full of bugs and spiders than anything else.  We re-opened on Good Friday 21st March 2008, fully ready for a great Bank Holiday Easter week end.

Going forward, the transition from London to Rolvenden began.  Long story short, my flat was rented out.  Danielle and Rob rented a home in Henley Meadows.  Lyn gave up her beautiful Dulwich flat, and her and Michael moved into the flat above the pub with me.  All of which was really challenging because Lyn and I were still running the London café, Tony was running the pub in the main, with Lyn and I here at the week ends.  Michael (Mick) had to commute each day to his London job – the threatening early retirement/redundancy had not realised itself.  It took us over 3 months, but we finally introduced a food service into the Pub – but it was very slow for obvious reasons (there hadn’t been one for a long time).  In the end, Lyn ran the food at the Pub, and I commuted to the Café, weekdays; running the pub with Lyn and Tony at the weekends.  It was really hard work running both businesses.

Operating the Pub as tenants for Greene King was really difficult financially.  After working so hard to turn the Pub around, increase turnover, create a food service etc, all they did was move the goal posts.  They increased the rent, and the additional service charges, such as building insurance, maintenance charges etc.  In 2010 Greene King restructured and we ended up with a new area manager.  As a result Greene King had a fixed vision for their “High Street” Pubs (similar to a Wetherspoons model).  I said that would not work for our Pub, because despite the “High Street” tag, we are a small rural village Pub.  I said they could have the key’s back.  This decision realised into an offer on the table to purchase the Pub instead.  Another long, and red tape bound procedure, finally made a purchase on 18th February 2013.  After this we decided to concentrate our energies on the Pub, and gave up the Café. 

We are now proud to own our pub as a Freehouse supporting the local Brewery Harvey’s. Our instinct to have our pub run as a friendly local, with good food, good drink and a good atmosphere is really important to us, it is our ethos through and through, a real pub for real people.