The mother and daughter Tapping into the heart of community life
Gill Mullins meets Ebe and Lucy Bonner as they mark the first anniversary of their first ever venture into the pub trade – their own village local, The Brewery Tap in Furneux Pelham...
While the number of small pubs in England nearly halved between 2001 and 2018, the rate of closures has recently plummeted as communities start to fight back for what is often their very heart.
And that is just what happened in Furneux Pelham in October 2018, when local residents Ebe Bonner and her daughter, Lucy, put in an offer on the village's last remaining pub, The Brewery Tap, to save it from the risk of redevelopment.
Lucy's only experience of the trade was waitressing in the pub in her teens, while Ebe is a former PA and farmer's wife who was more at home raising livestock than pulling pints, but with a proven track record running local events such as the Pelham Ball and Furneux Fair, they hoped the village would have faith in them.
"Outsiders might not have realised the Tap's potential, but we knew the clientele was there and what they wanted, and we knew it could become the hub of the community," said Ebe, whose family have lived in Furneux for 75 years.
Finally collecting the keys on December 4, 2018, they had just 10 days to revamp the pub prior to reopening. "We had to be open for Christmas, so to say time was tight is an understatement," recalled Lucy.
"It was the most stressful 10 days of our lives. Luckily, we had an amazing team of decorators, electricians and builders, and the villagers kept us all going every day with bacon sandwiches, sausage rolls and cake."
Despite this, it wasn't exactly plain sailing. The ceiling and walls were covered in multiple layers of textured wallpaper, which was tough to strip, although it did reveal some interesting features – not least an old list of drinks and prices in shillings and pennies scrawled on the wall over the bar. Port for 2s 8d (less than 15p), anyone? With no time for replastering, the ceiling was instead boarded; the boards promptly fell down and the whole thing had to be redone.
Meanwhile, the grey paint that looked great on a patch test simply didn't work across a large space, so with less than 24 hours to go, out came the brushes again for a new coat in navy (reader, it looks great). "The paint was still wet the night we opened. You can see the evidence in the back room where it got slightly scuffed, but we don't want to paint over it because it makes us smile," said Lucy. "And it was absolutely packed. People couldn't get in."
From the start, the Bonners' ethos has been to run the Tap as a family-friendly pub at the centre of the community. "One of the first things we did was buy a beautiful toy box on wheels and fill it with books, toys and games. If children feel at home, their parents feel at home," says Ebe.
They now employ 12 local people, including bar manager Joe Lane – who was brought up opposite the pub and whose father brewed the last barrel of award-winning BBA when the neighbouring Rayments brewery closed in 1987 – and chef Matt Vigus, who joined in September from The Cricketers at Clavering and lives just down the road in Bishop's Stortford.
Matt shares his passion for quality local produce with Lucy and Ebe, sourcing predominantly from Hertfordshire suppliers and changing the menu with the seasons. New additions for winter include an Irish onion soup with Guinness – topped with potato cream, served in a beer glass and looking for all the world like a pint of the black stuff – a rare-breed beef burger with Brie, crispy bacon and cranberry, and a moreish vegan burrito with pineapple salsa.
Over the year the Tap has launched family-friendly coffee and cake mornings on Fridays, much loved by parents and toddlers after the school run and now augmented by a breakfast menu until 11.30am. It has also hosted a wedding and the London to Cambridge bike race, and held the inaugural Tap into Ibiza party in the beer garden with live music, barbecue and cocktails, which will be back by popular demand next summer.
Regular events include a Tuesday night book club, craft and quiz nights, while as more and more people from surrounding villages and Bishop's Stortford discover this hidden gem, Sunday lunch is a sell-out most weekends, making advance booking a must.
Ever keen to diversify and keep the Tap relevant, Lucy and Ebe are now exploring the possibility of adding a small extension to enable more bar seating and a disabled loo, and to house a much-needed village shop and permanent post office counter.
"The real highlight of our first year has been seeing that it works," said Ebe. "We're so grateful to the whole village for its support. There have been tough times but so many good ones, and we'll carry on for as long as we continue to get that support – for us, it's a labour of love."
Santa dropped in for carols in the Tap garden on Sunday (December 22) and the pub is open throughout the festive period, with food every day apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Visit www.brewerytapfp.com or call 01279 777604 for more details.
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