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The Kennys call time at The Wheatsheaf in Maidstone

Rossa and Renee Kenny have pulled their last pints at The Wheatsheaf pub in Maidstone.

The couple hosted a farewell party for their regulars at the pub on the corner of Loose Road and Sutton Road on Saturday, after 35 years behind the bar.

Renee and Rosa Kenny who are retiring as licencee's from The Wheatsheaf pub in Loose Road, Maidstone. Picture: Chris Davey. (20152223)
Renee and Rosa Kenny who are retiring as licencee's from The Wheatsheaf pub in Loose Road, Maidstone. Picture: Chris Davey. (20152223)

Mr Kenny first started in the licensed trade 52 years ago, when as an 18-year-old he got a job as a barman in his native Ireland.

He then came to the UK, working in pubs in London, before returning to Ireland to manage his first pub. By the time he returned to London in 1979, he had married Renee, and the two bought the Wheatsheaf in 1984.

Mr Kenny said: "It was a very traditional male pub where women did not feel particularly comfortable. We set about changing that straight away."

The couple introduced a food menu, and over time they saw the nature of their clientele change.

Mr Kenny said: "At first, we had a lot of bank managers, police officers and firemen who would call in for a drink at lunchtime."

The Wheatsheaf has given its name to the junction of the A229 and A274
The Wheatsheaf has given its name to the junction of the A229 and A274

"But that lunchtime drinking culture while at work has ceased." So much so that the Kennys eventually decided not to open at lunchtime.

The introduction of the smoking ban also greatly affected the business, despite the construction of an outdoor shelter for smokers. Mr Kenny said: "The ban did keep a lot of people at home. Though it was a major benefit for people who work in the industry, as we no longer had customers sitting just across the bar puffing smoke in our faces."

Mr Kenny said some of the changes had been gradual, so that it was only now looking back that he noticed.

He said: "When we started, young people would come in for a pint with their fathers or uncles, and learned how to drink responsibly. You don't see much of that now.

"The drinking culture has changed with young people tending to go to town and binge drink."

The present pub was built in 1830
The present pub was built in 1830

They couple had also had to deal with an increased prevalence of drugs. He said; "We've not really had any problems at the Wheatsheaf, but it's something you have to be aware of.

"You can generally contain someone whose had too much to drink, but if they've also taken drugs, you never know what might happen."

The couple have always tried to make their pub part of the community. They have helped numerous good causes over the years, raising money to buy equipment for Maidstone Hospital and for the Leonard Cheshire home for the disabled when it was at Mote House, as well as the Kent Association for the Blind and the Heart of Kent Hospice.

Indeed on Saturday, their last night, they presented a cheque for £2,000 to Denise Lintern, who was representing the Alzheimers Society.

For the last 34 years, they've also given a free Christmas dinner for between 30 and 40 old folk in the area, laying on a four-course meal and a drink on the house.

The pub, which has been a local landmark since 1830, is now set to disappear. The Kennys have sold the building to KCC who intend to demolish it to make room for a roundabout at the junction, a notorious congestion blackspot.

It is perhaps the couple's only regret. Mr Kenny said: "We've always taken a tremendous pride in the look of the pub, ensuring it is kept swept and clean and never going more than five years without repainting."

Mr Kenny, 70, and Mrs Kenny, 65, intend to retire to Folkestone.

To read the Secret Drinker’s pub reviews click here.

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