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‘The interesting trends concerning pubs in West Norfolk’

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In his weekly The Bar Man column, Jeff Hoyle looks at pubs and their futures…What’s going on? It is a fair bet that Marvin Gaye’s 11th studio album was not much concerned about pubs in West Norfolk, but it struck me that there are some interesting trends worth examining.The White Horse at Holme-next-the-Sea is currently undergoing refurbishment after becoming the latest member of the Anglia Country Inns group which now owns eight venues across the region including the White Horse and Jolly Sailors at Brancaster.They appointed Ian Daw as head chef and installed an in-house bakery at the premises. Judging by the other members of the group that I have visited, such as the Lytton Arms at Old Knebworth, we can look forward to a comfortable, well-run and popular venue with decent beer.

The White Horse in Holme and new head chef Ian Daw

Not far round the coast, the Lifeboat in Thornham and the nearby Chequers have been purchased by Chestnut, which has a collection of 18 venues around East Anglia including the Globe in Wells, Wiveton Bell and The Feathers in Holt. Again, they run comfortable, high-quality pubs and hotels and it looks like the future of The Lifeboat is bright.The Coaching Inn group are slightly larger with a greater geographical spread, but their recent purchase of the King William IV in Sedgeford joins The Pheasant in Holt and the Blakeney Manor Hotel in the 35-strong group.Again, the members of the group that I have visited over the years such as the Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor and the Rutland Arms Hotel in Bakewell have been well run and impressive.With North West Norfolk pubs and hotels safely in the hands of small to medium-sized groups with a track record of competence and quality, what’s happening elsewhere? The Kings Arms in Shouldham has just celebrated its tenth anniversary as a community-owned pub. A once failing pub has been transformed into a thriving enterprise attracting custom from a wide area and playing a central role in village life.It follows on the heels of the Dabbling Duck in Great Massingham which took a slightly different route to the same destination. The community model has inspired the other great local success story, the Blue Bell at Stoke Ferry. It is not an easy task to buy, refurbish and run a pub and no praise is too high for those volunteers who took on and have made a success of these enterprises.While several pubs throughout Norfolk have followed in their footsteps, we are still awaiting our third one. Attempts have been made at St Germans with the Crown and Anchor and Necton with The Windmill which may yet bear fruit. The sector which gives me the greatest concern is the cheap and cheerful community-style pubs in the towns. As I write, the Crossways in Lynn has the shutters up and with the rumours of offers to buy the property and turn it into flats in the past, one is always concerned. The White Hart in Swaffham has also closed. How long will other similar pubs survive?barman@btinternet.com

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