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Cheers – double celebration for Carpenters Arms

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It’s a double triumph for the Carpenters Arms at Westrip—and a double triumph for the second year on the trot. The pub is not just Stroud CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year but has prevailed in the next round to be crowned Gloucestershire CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year once again, writes Tim Mars.

Stroud CAMRA presented Sammy McKie, owner and licensee of the Carpenters Arms, with a framed certificate as our Cider Pub of the Year for 2024 on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the end of March. Sammy used the occasion to launch the pub’s very own cider, Rowdy Stroudy, and to plant several apple trees so that in years to come Rowdy Stroudy will be made with apples from trees grown in the pub’s garden.

It proved a thoroughly enjoyable occasion, the sun shone, the pub was rammed and the garden was very busy, what with a folk group playing inside, a children’s Easter egg hunt and the Easter bunny up to all kinds of mischief outside. To top it all, Sammy held a cider festival to celebrate the award, with 11 bag-in-box ciders and perries on offer from local producers Orchard Revival and Severn Cider—not forgetting Rowdy Stroudy! Tim Andrews from Orchard Revival was on hand to supervise the tree planting and to dispense wisdom and enlightenment on everything to do with apples and pears and the orchards they come from.

Aside from (officially) the best range of cider in Gloucestershire, for those who preferred other libations there were three real ales and all the usual sedative-hypnotics behind the double-sided bar that serves both the lounge and the public bar.

The Carpenters now goes forward with our blessing to the next round, to compete with all the other CAMRA south-west branch nominations for the title of South West CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year. And so on, until one pub out of a shortlist of four is crowned national CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year.

The Carpenters is a whitewashed stone-built pub right at the north-western edge of the Cashes Green conurbation, close to the Cotswold Way. It is located on a steep hillside with spectacular and panoramic views over Stroud, from Rodborough Fort to the Bear Hotel and across to Selsley, and all along the valley towards the River Severn.

Sammy bought the pub in 2019 and has proved a hands-on, energetic and enterprising publican. There’s always something going on at the ‘Carps’, whether it’s live music, a quiz, a raffle, Singo Bingo, Let’s Paint, breakfast at the weekend, steak nights, premiership rugby on the widescreen TV, carols at Christmas, and even an annual dog show (this year on Saturday 18 May)!

This is quite a turnaround for the pub, which was once closed and risked being lost to a residential conversion after being declared unviable by so-called ‘industry specialists’. It was advertised for sale as an ‘ideal lifestyle purchase [that] would also appeal to purchasers looking to open on restricted hours and benefit from three-bedroom private accommodation in a desirable residential area’. Neon Homes bought the pub and built two houses on part of the car park. It was eventually advertised as for sale freehold at £300,000 or to let on a free-of-tie lease.

Previously the pub was owned by Punch Taverns with landlord Steve Poulter as their tenant for many years. It was subject to an unsuccessful application by Pubmaster (now part of Punch) for planning permission for conversion to residential in 1997. This was refused by Stroud District Council. Pubmaster went to appeal, the appeal was rejected and the pub was saved from closure.

Perhaps because of this experience, according to locals Punch sold the pub to landlord Steve Poulter and almost immediately he sold it to Neon Homes and became their tenant. Neon Homes received planning permission to build two houses on part of the car park.

Perhaps also because of Pubmaster’s experience, Neon Homes then commissioned Plainview Planning to prepare a Future Options document that stated baldly that ‘changes in drinking habits and its peripheral location present a day-to-day challenge to the ability of the pub to stay up and running. A viability report undertaken by industry specialists concludes that the pub is not viable.’

Plainview Planning fail to mention that despite the pub’s ‘peripheral location’ it is at the edge of a densely built up urban area (Cashes Green) with hundreds of people within walking distance, has stunning views from the garden and happens to be on the Cotswold Way. Surely these are material considerations and trump any ‘viability report’ undertaken by self-styled ‘industry specialists’ hired to conclude that ‘the pub is not viable’? As is the fact that neighbourhoods with pubs are seen as desirable and that is reflected in higher house prices.

Which just goes to show that it’s not all bad news on the pub front and that a village local in a peripheral location at the edge of an urban area, with a hands-on, energetic and enterprising publican can triumph against the odds over property speculators intent on converting any pubs they get their greedy hands on to residential in order to achieve a higher return.

That’s surely worth raising a glass to!

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