Published: 12:17, 14 January 2022
| Updated: 15:03, 14 January 2022
A village pub is facing an uncertain future after being boarded up this week.
The Wheel Inn in Westwell near Ashford closed on Tuesday, sparking concern among residents.
The inn, which overlooks the village green, had been under the care of James Kelland for almost five years but was hit hard by the pandemic.
Now all of the windows and doors have been sealed while the business has been put on the market for £330,000.
Parish councillor Clive Bainbridge said: “James did fantastically with the pub and it was popular, especially among locals, but the last two years had been hard.
“Shepherd Neame has been very good in that it let the pub run on a free-of-tie basis, and it is now selling the pub only on the basis that whoever buys it continues to run it as one.
“That’s really important to us as we don’t want to lose the pub.”
The ‘free-of-tie’ arrangement means whoever buys the pub will own it outright, with the Shepherd Neame logo and drinks already having been removed by the business under Mr Kelland, who had previously managed the Swan restaurant at the Chapel Down winery in Tenterden.
But villagers now face an anxious wait to see who will step in to run the business.
Resident Mike Jemmerson says the pub – to which he has been going for more than 40 years – was vital to the village.
“We didn’t go in there to drink as I don’t drink alcohol, but the food was great,” he explained.
“We went there just the other day, a lot of people did the same, there were always regulars in there for both food and drink.
“We have already had the shop close some years ago, and the school even further back than that, this is one of the last things in the village and it’s a huge community asset.”
Cllr Bainbridge said that Savills, the estate agents in charge of the pub’s sale, was confident of getting interest in the property.
“I have been informed by Shepherd Neame that Savills will be responsible for the sale of The Wheel and that it has booked viewings to take place this week,” he added.
“So at this stage it does believe there is potential interest, and it has agreed to let us at the parish council know if it receives a credible offer that they wish to accept.”
In 2017, Shepherd Neame spent £80,000 transforming the outside of the site, which dates back to the 17th century.
This week, the brewery's commercial estates manager John Barnes said: “The Wheel has been for sale as a public house since April 2021, as it no longer fits the needs of our business.
"Shepherd Neame is in communication with the local parish council, ensuring it remains up to date with proceedings.”