My chat with Sarah and Dave Stevenson, ex Police Officers from East Yorkshire, went on a little longer than my normal 5-10 minutes, because I was so intrigued to hear how this friendly couple had worked from the very beginning of their tenancy to become part of their new community. And, at the same time, to delight in the unexpected joy of their new daughter, Isabella.
Dave recounts the couple’s first fortnight in position, when they resolved to do everything themselves so as to get to know the clientele at first hand, and only when they felt comfortable in that relationship to bring in support staff. That was two and a half years ago, in September 2016, and the experience stood them in good stead, though now half-way through their 5 year tenancy, they employ 5 part-time workers. As Dave says, the stress is not less, but definitely different, from the jobs with the police force.
Possibly their next significant community interaction was to take on the responsibility for the public-access defibrillator, now nicely mounted on an exterior wall, after a debacle during April’s Allendale Challenge when a participant, exhausted, really needed a life-saving zap, but was pulled through his heart attack with prompt CPR attention. In between times they had Isabella, now 19 months old and a very quiet toddler who is, nevertheless, the big boss of the family outfit, of course.
So Sarah and Dave actually rent the premises from Marston’s, running their own business within, though they trade off some rent for exclusivity in terms of Marston’s product. The pub company takes care of the major infrastructure, while the tenants deal with smaller matters, like building another quoits pitch out back (at last! I remember playing quoits there over a quarter of a century ago on the single pitch) so they can field two teams in the area’s Quoits League, and lately adding a pool table to allow two eager teams to participate in that league too.
That’s why the industrious couple re-renovated the upstairs function room themselves (it was so much more cost-effective than getting the owner’s crew in), decorating and bringing the room back to a high presentation standard. It’s ideal for parties, and they’ve been pouring in too, from kids’ birthdays to christenings, anniversary occasions, live music events (like the recent Oil City Shakers gig), and even training courses, eg the ongoing series ‘Bookkeeping for Small Businesses’ run by Northumberland Community Development Company’s Back of Beyond business support group.) .
Along with other local groups who are finding the space ideal for meetings, the Women’s Institute have been holding their monthly sessions at the King’s Head for the past four years now as well, moving upstairs with the renovation, but they started out in the capacious dining area. I was never quite sure how they managed to sing ‘Jerusalem’ in the midst of bemused diners!
Ah, reminiscences . . . I remember when the function room’s discrete little bar worked well for live music gigs, but that was incorporated as a kitchen into the tiny tenant’s flat long before Dave and Sarah arrived, so they’ve figured out that a pop-up bar can be set up quickly if desired, though party goers tend not to mind carrying drinks from the main bar back upstairs.
And too, diversification: the friendly couple run a very successful B&B service up the third flight of stairs, which makes a cosy and welcoming base for visitors to the area. All while maintaining their pro-active niche in the community too: they contributed significantly to the third defibrillator in Allendale, now mounted on the wall of the Sports Club Pavilion.
Of course we chatted a bit about nerdy pub-management things — I was eager to hear about the two traditional beer cellars below: one maintained by air conditioning at 12ºC for the best beer storage, while the other stays at ambient temperature, typically 14-15º. Dave took the required bartending and management courses, of course, so that he’s able to serve the expected beverages in top condition, while Sarah does front-of-house duties when she’s not dealing with Isabella’s needs.
Considering that the business has been growing steadily since the friendly Yorkshire couple took it on, I’d not be surprised at all if Marston’s were falling over themselves to offer a renewed tenancy when it comes around, but whatever happens, Sarah and Dave say, they’re committed to life in Allendale, since they love it here. And so too do their black labradors, who especially enjoy a run with their master out on the near fellsides.