Fewer than 55,000 pubs remain open and more than 30 are shutting in Britain every week – but one of Kent’s village inns is certainly bucking that trend, as Dan Wright found out.
Many couples dream of what it would be like to run a country pub together, but for most of us it remains a dream.
Not so for go-getting Kevin and Michelle Abbott, who not only took on just such a challenge together but have also turned the Anchor Inn in Wingham into an award-winner within two years.
Its village setting, near Canterbury, gave the pair the belief that, with the introduction of a food menu and some changes, the venue could be a diamond in the making.
And, as predicted, they have polished it into a thriving pub, offering real ales, a well-kept garden, traditional grub and a buzzing music scene.
Their work hasn’t gone unnoticed, with the Anchor crowned the nation’s Best Entertainment Pub at the recent Great British Pub Awards 2014, repeating its 2013 success when it was hailed Newcomer of the Year.
The awards cap what has been a whirlwind two years for the pair.
Both have never worked in the business before, apart from Kevin, a former banker, spending a year as a barman in his teenage years.
But running a pub is something they always wanted to do and – despite the difficult economy – they made the leap and took on the tenancy in the summer of 2012.
The Anchor’s music scene was the driving force behind its entertainment award win.
Kevin, 52, and Michelle, 51, both have a love of music and, once moved in, they started to put on good quality folk performances.
Over time, the pub started to build a musical reputation and now it is an integral part of its offerings.
“We started to get a name for our music,” Michelle said.
“We’re doing something different – we have a big variety. We are not a karaoke pub, we have good musicians here.
“There was nothing going on like that in the area and so all of a sudden there was something happening. It’s what people enjoy, listening to live music and it’s giving them a wider perspective with the variety of music we have here.”
Despite triumphing in last year’s newcomer category, the pair didn’t expect to repeat that success this year.
Even so, they still entered the entertainment award and were named the south and London regional winners, before being invited to the national awards ceremony in Park Lane, London.
Michelle said: “We’re a pub from Wingham – we didn’t expect to have won, we just do what we do.
“We’re a little pub, not a big concern, but I don’t think that’s what they wanted – they weren’t looking for a big chain.
“I think it was the diversity of the things we do. We’re forever tweaking and constantly changing and there’s always one million and one jobs to do around here.”