How the the George and Dragon in Hudswell won the National Pub of the Year Award
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 May 2017
Joan Russell Photography
There has been a remarkable turn around at a Hudswell pub that has been named the country's best
They’re used to success in the Miller household. Sam was sous chef at Noma in Copenhagen when it was voted the world’s best restaurant and now brother Stu has got in on the act. Less then three years after he took over the George and Dragon pub in Hudswell, he has been presented with the Campaign For Real Ale’s National Pub of the Year Award.
The York-born 37-year-old had never run a pub before but decided he needed a change of career after years working in IT.
He had originally wanted to work in music production and studied at Leeds College of Music but failed to find work and moved into computing, working for a time at the Leeds United academy.
‘I progressed through IT jobs and ended up with a very good job. I was very good at it but I didn’t enjoy it,’ he said. ‘At one point I wanted a restaurant but beer is my greatest strength. Having a pub was a pipe dream for a good five years. I was a single lad in London and I was enjoying life but I managed to save enough money to take on the tenancy of a pub.’
In 2008, while Stu was in London saving for the pub of his dreams, the owners of the George and Dragon in Hudswell went bankrupt and the pub was closed down, leaving the village with no other facilities for its residents apart from a village hall.
No-one came forward to buy it, so the community banded together to form the Hudswell Community Pub Ltd group and bought back the pub, which re-opened in June 2010 with a shop, library, allotments and free WiFi access.
Stu met his wife Melissa, a chartered accountant, while he was living in London. He said: ‘Melissa supported me fully and believed in what I wanted to do and was willing to re-locate. I think she loves Yorkshire even more than I do now. She loves being out in the Dales, cycling and walking the dog.
‘We were friends before we got together. I moved into her best friend’s flat so she was well aware what she was taking on.
‘When I decide to do something I really throw myself into it and get quite geeky. I read a lot of books and went on a course at a brewery in London to gain the knowledge I would need.
‘The pub was open when I first saw it and was being run by a mother and daughter. We really liked it straight away and I could see a lot of potential to do things with it.
‘I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the place and had a quite detailed business plan. I wanted a pub that was good at doing the basics – selling simple food and really good modern beer from small micro breweries. I avoid the big brands and have always wanted the pub to be local, to use small suppliers and it works well in a village like this.’
After he was interviewed by the community board, Stu took over the George and Dragon in July 2014. Volunteers from the village helped redecorate the pub and extend the bar and Stu added: ‘There were a few grumbles but you’re always going to get some, especially in a small Dales village. We don’t get so many now though, so I must be doing something right.’
And the pub supports the community too – it’s home not only to good beer food and conversation, but also houses a small shop, library and allotments, one of which provides the pub kitchen with its salad leaves.
That community spirit was among the things CAMRA praised when they presented Stu with the award.
Paul Ainsworth, CAMRA’s Pub of the Year Finalist coordinator says: ‘The George and Dragon is a great example of how a pub has been resurrected as a true community asset. To go from closed doors to winning national pub of the year in just a few short years is a fantastic achievement for any pub – and all the more impressive for one that is cooperatively owned.
‘The story of the George and Dragon goes to show that in the right hands a closed pub can become viable and successful. We are very impressed with the work the community group has undertaken to save their local and hope other communities are encouraged by the example when faced with an ongoing battle to save their own local.’
In the days and weeks after the presentation, Stu was contacted by communities across the country asking for advice on how to save or re-open their local pubs.
‘It’s nice to think we might inspire others,’ Stu said. ‘The way it’s been done here is a good example – the community owns the pub and I run it. It’s not run by committee, I don’t think that would work as well, you need someone to be fully committed to it.’
And Stu, who now wants to launch a micro-brewery in the village, added: ‘The days after the announcement were surreal. We were live on the six o’clock news, all the national papers had something about us.
‘I suppose there’s so much bad news about at the moment and we were a feel good story that came along at the right time. We have had publicity you just couldn’t buy and it has made a real difference to us.
‘We think it can keep getting better and better. We have been very busy since the announcement and our aim at the moment is to try to build on that and to become more well known and more of a destination pub.
‘We can’t just rely on villagers coming in every evening and drinking eight pints, we need to attract people from further afield who are willing to drive and eat here and come back every few weeks.’
For more details, go online to georgeanddragonhudswell.co.uk
The people behind the re-opening of the George and Dragon received support and funding from the Plunkett Foundation which helps groups around the country with projects in their communities.
Founded in 1919, the Oxford-based foundation encourages co-operatives to launch and run pubs, shops, cafes and other initiatives. General manager James Alcock said: ‘Community-owned pubs such as The George and Dragon are an exceptional example of how a community can succeed in running an enterprise. Within a short space of time, a community has rallied together in order to save a vital village resource and have now been rewarded for all their hard work.’
To find out more, go to plunkett.co.uk.