Published: 06:00, 03 December 2020
| Updated: 06:37, 03 December 2020
An historic pub has been saved from the threat of demolition by a group of enthusiasts – including former England footballer Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock.
The Windmill Inn in Ashford will now be renamed The New Fox Inn after the 24-strong team secured a six-year lease.
DJ John Webster is a key figure behind the takeover after first thinking of the idea during the original national lockdown.
Having known Ruddock for years, he says the former defender jumped at the chance to get involved in the Willesborough pub, which was previously called The Fox.
The ex-Liverpool and West Ham star, who lives in the town, has become one of 24 investors who have all stumped up £2,000 to help fund the project.
“Razor came in at the last minute,” Mr Webster said.
“I went to see his brother, Colin, and Razor was round there.
“I told him about it getting the pub and he couldn’t believe it – he thought I was joking. He said ‘why didn’t you ask me?’
“As it happens, one guy dropped out so Razor was first on the list and I have never seen him so excited, even in his football days.”
Owned by the Ei Group, formerly known as Enterprise Inns, the pub’s lease had been advertised for a number of years.
Mr Webster says the prime Hythe Road site was due to open this week at the end of the second lockdown – serving drinks only – but Tier 3 restrictions have put paid to that.
However, Chris Evans’ former sidekick at Virgin Radio still plans to open the site before Christmas if Covid-19 restrictions allow.
“It’s captured people’s imagination,” Mr Webster said.
“The fact of the matter is we’ve saved a pub from being shut and possibly turned into flats.
“Because it’s a consortium of like-minded people, it’s really gathering a bit of momentum – it’s just a shame the government won’t let us open the thing.”
Mr Webster, who says Evans is delighted to hear about his plans for the pub, used to play in The Fox’s football team and says he feels like he has gone full circle.
“As a young man, I suppose it was my first proper local,” he said.
"I’ve used it with many landlords – and some have been better than others.
"Then, in the first lockdown, I was speaking to a couple of mates and we thought about getting a few people together to take it over.
“It kept us going through lockdown – we plotted, planned and got a bit excited about it as there was nothing else to do.”
Set to serve “good pub grub”, the site, which dates back to the early 1900s, is currently enjoying a full refurbishment.
“We’ll have real ales and we’ve already sourced local wines,” Mr Webster said.
“We want to make sure the kitchen is up to scratch – a mini fire happened in there before we got it so we’ve got to refurbish that.
“But everything else is brand-spanking new and looks immaculate.
“We’ve got seats you want to sit in, not just perch on.”
Mr Webster says the pub, which can seat 46 people downstairs, will be repainted in the spring, replacing the “puke yellow” colour which currently adorns the outside walls.
The function room on the first floor could become a restaurant area, with an orangery also planned for the garden.
Live football will also be shown when the site opens.
"In the future, we’ll do a Celebrity MasterChef night because Razor did so well on the show"
"One of the most gutting things is that we can't do anything with the outside colour at the moment because of the weather, but it’s going to become a very popular place again,” Mr Webster said.
“We had to change it back to The Fox as people still refer to it as that.
“It’s just 20-odd like-minded people who didn’t want to lose another pub – no one is in it to make money out of it.
“We will employ someone who will hopefully make a living out of it, but as shareholders, we are not in it to make money.
“We just want to have a pub that becomes our local again and is not knocked down.”
Mr Webster says live music will feature “at some stage” and has heaped praise on three members of the group – husband-and-wife team Richard and Karen Cook and Darren Groves, known as ‘Shed’.
“Razor used to watch his brothers play for the team so it’s a nice connection for him”
“Everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet,” Mr Webster added.
“Razor is very keen not to overshadow it.
“He’s a big lad – he overshadows most things – but you can’t go wrong with a bit of celebrity attachment.
“In the future, we’ll do a Celebrity MasterChef night because he did so well on the show.
“He won’t cook everything, but he will prepare what he wants and he’ll do one of his after-dinner speeches, too.
“Razor used to come and watch his older brothers play for The Fox team so it’s a nice connection for him.”
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