For licensee John Sharkey and his family, Christmas has come early this year as it is the first Autumn and Winter that the bridge at Ovingham has been open since they took on the White Swan in Ovingham and turned around its fortunes.
Two years after having taken on the pub, they have increased trade threefold and created 10 jobs, all while the bridge was closed.
Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, joined them to find out how they have transformed the pub and pulled a celebratory pint.
Two years ago, John took on the lease of the tired, run-down pub. A joint £150k investment with Star Pubs & Bars, Heineken’s pub business1, in 2015 brought The White Swan up-to-date, making it brighter and more comfortable whilst retaining the pub's traditional character including its wooden beams and open fires. A new upgraded kitchen allowed the pub to focus more on food and the pub now regularly serves 200 people for Sunday lunches, which get booked up weeks in advance.
For first time landlord, John, taking on The White Swan while the bridge was closed, was a risk but he could see the pub's potential and that it would be beneficial for the whole family to live and work in the community. Formerly a steward of the Westerhope golf club, John explained: "The pub is a family affair. My father-in-law, Billy Gunn, who was a local government officer, helps with the books; Lyndsey, my wife, does everything from bar manager to waitress when not working at the bank, and our 17-year-old Amy helps two nights a week. Our five-year-old, Evie, even believes she's got a job! We all absolutely love it.
"As well as establish a name for good food, which we now have, we wanted to create a great community local. We show live sport, host live bands, and even host psychic evenings. As a result, we appeal to all sorts of different age groups and people from all walks of life.
"A year later than anticipated, the bridge has now reopened and, after months of walking to the pub, customers can drive or come by taxi. It is great news for us and for our customers, who we'd like to thank for their support over the last couple of years."
MP, Guy Opperman said: “It is great to see the fantastic work John and the whole family have done in turning the pub around. Establishments like this sit at the heart of the community and local economy, and it’s wonderful to see all that hard work paying off. Now that Ovingham Bridge is finally open, making the trip over that much easier, hopefully trade for The White Swan will get even stronger moving forward.”
Lawson Mountstevens, managing director of Star Pubs & Bars said: "John and his family have done a great job putting the White Swan at the heart of the community. What's more they did it despite the bridge being out of action for two years."