A LANDLORD – who has welcomed popular musicians such as Coldplay and Paul Weller to his Somerset pub – is being forced to step down after a huge rent increase.
The Ring O’Bells in Compton Martin has been run by Miles and Luca Leonard, and their friends Matt and Fiona, for the last eight and a half years.
But the pub itself is owned by Butcombe Brewery, and Mr Leonard says the firm has now increased the rent – from £28,000, to a whopping £62,000 per year.
Mr Leonard also claimed the brewery refused to enter third party arbitration and demanded a 100 per cent increase in their annual spend with the company.
“To receive that news in a year like this, when we fought to stay open – and we have – and to end up being told this now,” he said.
“I think corporations should have some ethical responsibility.
“We have a tenancy agreement and we have abided by this to the full.
“When a brewery goes into a pub it is usually because tenants have broken their tenancy.
“Everything we are meant to do, we have done. So it is so sad to see that this has happened so suddenly.”
Now, the tenants are being forced to leave so Butcombe Brewery can reclaim this loved village pub to “protect its future”.
A spokesperson for Butcombe Brewery said: “In this specific instance Butcombe Brewing Co has made every effort to support the operators of the Ring O’ Bells over the past few years including multiple visits and meetings with the current tenants.
“Ultimately, Butcombe has to ensure all properties owned by the company, as the Ring O’ Bells is, are viable so that they can continue to serve communities in a sustainable way.
“It was decided to bring the pub into the managed estate to protect its future. As is standard in these situations, a Section 25 notice was issued in July of this year giving plenty of notice of this decision.”
But the community is “devastated” at the thought of losing the landlords who have created a pub at “the very heart of the community”.
Resident Helena Craig, 52, is particularly upset at the thought of the pub being managed by Butcombe Brewery.
“I’ve been here for 23 years,” she said. “And when I moved here, Butcombe was in charge of the pub – but no children or dogs were allowed in (apart from in the one, very cold family room), and they made no effort to be local.
“When Miles and Matt took over, they shut down the already-failing pub and completely renovated it.
“They redid the whole interior and it was really tastefully done, with wooden floors and interesting decorations.
“They converted the old family room into two B&B rooms and they were beautifully done out as well.
“They have put on loads of community events, provided free harvest suppers, had huge musicians perform there and host an amazing cheese and cider fair.”
Mr Leonard – who has recently retired as chairman of Parlophone Records and Warner Bros Records – managed to bring well-known artists to the pub as well, because of the people he worked with.
“We managed to get bigger names because they were artists I worked with, and they enjoyed playing at the pub and it was something different to what they normally do, it was a bit of fun,” he added.
“We are a very popular pub – people come from Bath, Bristol, Bridgwater, Yeovil – we don’t do it for any other reason than to have a pub that people enjoy and respect.”
During lockdown, the pub managed to find multiple ways to help the community too – by setting up a local shop, offering takeaways/deliveries and creating their own radio station to keep everyone entertained.
“All the Butcombe-managed pubs closed their doors throughout the pandemic and the lockdown, we’ve only got to where we are because the community have supported us,” said Mr Leonard.
“During lockdown, we sat down and diversified the business, and offered food and drink takeaways and set up a shop selling local produce, because people were really concerned about travelling to supermarkets. This was well supported and successful.
“We then set up a radio station to keep the community informed – even the local vicar did a Sunday service on the radio station.
“We were nominated in the Great British Pub Awards and we came in the top five because of what we did in the community during lockdown.
“We worked very hard, we were serving free meals to NHS workers and key workers. This is just second nature to us: we support local producers and local people.
“When we did all of that and then to be served notice and be forced to leave, well, it felt like a real blow and it was so disheartening.”
Butcombe Brewery said in a Facebook post, that the pub was “not a viable business in its current guise”, but they sent a letter to Mr Leonard stating “the efforts you have put into the Ring O’Bells has ensured the business is a viable one”.
But in a statement to your County Gazette, the firm says they decided to bring the pub into the managed estate in order to focus on the “survival of the business”.
“The part played by the Ring O’ Bells in the local community over the years cannot be disputed,” a Butcombe spokesperson said.
“The decision to move The Ring O’ Bells into Butcombe’s Managed estate was not an easy one to make but is right for the pub, the team, customers and Compton Martin itself in the long term.
“Butcombe has a huge responsibility to protect team members, suppliers and the communities it supports to ensure its pubs are commercially robust.
“Moving this pub into the managed business in no way signals an end to this important site’s role within the community; quite the opposite.
“Butcombe will be retaining the existing team. They will be fully supported with ongoing training and development, ensuring them an exciting and, most importantly, secure and financially stable future.”
Residents in Compton Martin have set up a petition to save the pub. To sign it, visit https://www.change.org/p/butcombe-brewery-keep-our-village-pub-local