The Bell celebrates its 10th anniversary of ownership and management under the wing of the Alscot brand.
Back in 2008, after the tenancy fell back into the hands of the Alscot Estate, owner Emma Holman-West had little choice but to open and run the pub in-house. It was, at the time, both a very brave and risky venture.
With no experience in the pub or restaurant trade, and amidst an economic downturn where it was reported that Britain’s pubs were closing at a rate of 52 per week, the recession had a massive impact on the industry as fewer people were spending money in pubs and bars.
After a few deep breaths, Emma set up The Alscot Pub Co LLP and set about a quick transformation of the pub which to date has turned out to be a decade of devotion.
Emma recalls her first memories of taking the keys back in June 2008 and setting about a “Challenge Anneka” style makeover – “chucking the chintz!”
I committed to closing the pub for just one week for essential maintenance as I didn’t want to jeopardise any of the regular trade, although I secretly hoped in that time that we would achieve an amazing new look. Tradesmen were booked to come in as the keys were handed over to us, we had painters, plumbers, electricians, carpet fitters and carpenters working around each other and you can imagine how chaotic this was.
Luckily spirits were high and everyone mucked in and worked around the clock. We didn’t quite transform the place and I soon realised that getting The Bell to where I wanted it to be was going to take an awful lot of time and money going forward.
A close friend of mine, who worked for the Conran Group at the time, offered to come on the day of opening to cast her expert eye over the place before we unlocked the doors to the public. Only then was I made aware that we had over looked the menu and beer – the pub had neither food nor drink!”
The Bell has come a long way since then. After maximising the dining and bar space, the LLP went about creating the first four of its now nine boutique guest bedrooms generating a new audience through the tourism sector, a landscaped garden was laid to create the option for outdoor dining and larger events and in 2016 a building project to create a stunning new two floor restaurant was completed, leading to an LABC Award.
Progression and investment also took place behind the scenes in terms of its strategy, business systems and solutions, staff and facilities.
Over the last 10 years, The Bell has built an undeniable reputation as one of the best places to eat, drink and sleep attaining multiple awards. Building its unique brand identity reinforced by its independence and connection to Alscot, The Bell is now recognised for many of its significant industry accolades.
The real breakthrough came in 2014 when there was a significant upturn in the economic market and noticeably more busy times than quiet times and The Bell was awarded a rosette for culinary excellence.
Describing The Bell today, Emma explains: “The Bell is a very different place to what it was 10 years ago, it’s developed and grown in size and as a business, although it is imperative to me that during any decision making we remember our roots, we are after all a country pub in the heart of the village. It’s been work in progress over the last 10 years and is the result of influence and feedback.
As an independent, we’ve been able to listen and respond to what our guests want and need as well as keeping up with trends, and I think we have successfully created a place for all occasions. We have a fantastic restaurant offering some of the best food and wine in the area but if someone wants to sit in the bar with their dog wearing their wellington boots and enjoy a bowl of chips and a pint, then they will be made to feel just as welcome.”
Today The Bell a former coaching inn, is very much a modern day country pub, restaurant and luxury B&B. The bar is cosy retaining many distinctive features such as stone floors and open fires. The two floor contemporary restaurant with stunning views is effortlessly stylish.
As a keen designer herself, Emma, has planned the space carefully to offer comfort and modern luxury without compromising the characteristic spirit of the pub. Seating spreads through the restaurant to the expanse of aluminium framed floor to ceiling bi-fold doors which open directly on the patio.
Guests can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner al fresco style! The second floor, with dark wooden floors inside and out and polished copper tables, has panoramic views overlooking the sprawling riverside garden & Stour Valley. Adjacent to the impressive steel framed structure, which fits in perfectly with the existing 18th century building, is the private dining room with a grand table laid to precision with opulent accessories.
Emma continues: “With little to no experience, my friends laughed at me when I announced that I was going to become a landlady (I was nick named Peggy Mitchell) and despite unforeseen situations that cropped up along the way (things I couldn’t have even dreamt up), low points, hard-work and significant achievements it’s been a passion for a decade.
Obviously we still need to see what BREXIT will bring but we remain positive and in business you have to adapt to survive. To date, we owe so much to everyone who has supported us over the years. I take so much pleasure from seeing people enjoy and appreciate the pub. It’s critical that the management are armed with a wealth of knowledge and experience – these days top chefs want to come and work for us and I am blown away by their calibre!
None of the success would be possible without our guests and the team and I hope they feel just as proud as I do and that’s why we are celebrating our tenth birthday.”
General Manager, Sean Tiernan, has launched three new drinks by way of recognition of this milestone year – The Birthday Bell-ini cocktail, Alscot Dec-Ale (a take on decade) a beer brewed for The Bell by North Cotswold Brewery, and Pappy Birthday, a Papua New Guinea bean, dark roasted and blended for The Bell by local suppliers Monsoon Estates Coffee Co.
On 18th June, The Bell’s official birthday, it’s drinks on the house and Emma and the team will be planting an oak tree within the grounds. If anyone knows how to throw a good party then it’s The Bell and therefore it would be considered rude not to.
On Sunday 8th July The Bell will be hosting a birthday bash, to mark its milestone birthday, in the beautiful and spacious gardens, where guests are invited to join the atmosphere with DJ, food, drink and surprise entertainment.