Punters invited to help pull pints at quirky Sheffield pub saved by the community

Mark Powell raises a glass with a handful of the pub's 380-plus soon-to-be owners
Mark Powell raises a glass with a handful of the pub's 380-plus soon-to-be owners
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Exciting plans have been unveiled for what must be one of Sheffield's quirkiest pubs, after drinkers clubbed together to take it over.

Regulars and real ale fans raised nearly £240,000 in community shares to buy The Gardeners Rest in Neepsend from landlords Eddy Munnelly and Pat Wilson, who are retiring.

Mark Powell behind the bar at The Gardeners Rest pub

Mark Powell behind the bar at The Gardeners Rest pub

The sale has yet to be completed, but the new owners are already running the pub, and at a launch party this afternoon shareholders gathered to hear more about the steering group's vision for the venue.

Mark Powell, chairman of the Gardeners Rest Community Society, told how many of the features which made it so popular with locals would be retained - like the quiz nights, music evenings and - more unusually - 'toast Thursdays' where drinkers get a free slice with their beer.

But he also set out plans for a host of new events, like 'arty parties' to get customers' creative juices flowing, bar billiards and Subbuteo championships, and local history walks departing from the pub in Neepsend Lane.

He also explained how customers would be encouraged to learn how to pull pints so they could lend a hand at busy times, and people with learning disabilities and mental health problems would be invited to get involved by helping out in the pub and becoming part of the community there.

The pub could also host blood donations, councillor surgeries and advice sessions, which Mark suggested people might feel more comfortable attending than they would in a formal setting.

Plans for the upstairs are still being formulated, with Mark saying it could provide living accommodation or space for local groups like karate clubs, and the kitchen could be brought back into use.

Mark stressed that while the steering committee will oversee the pub's management, it was important that the 400-odd community shareholders used their voices to help shape the pub, as well as lending their skills when needed.

He explained how The Gardeners Rest is set to become just the 47th community-owned pub in the country, with only one in every 18 attempts at such a venture succeeding.

"We're in a small elite band of people who look as though they're going to be doing that. It's pretty certain," he said.

The launch was celebrated with a barbecue, and beers were lowered down to passing kayakers taking part in the Kelham Island History on the River weekend.

Perhaps the biggest announcement surrounded the replacement for Stella, the pub's resident mannequin who starred in the fundraising video.

She departed with Eddy and Pat, who plan to use the proceeds from the pub's sale to buy a narrowboat and spend their retirement cruising Britain's canals.

Taking her place will be none other than the Queen - or at least a cartoon portrait of Her Majesty pulling a pint.

Paul Blomfield, the Labour candidate for Sheffield Central, was given the honour of unveiling the picture.

He said: "I was as worried as anyone when the pub was at risk, and I decided to back the initiative to raise the funds for a community bid.

"I want to congratulate Mark and everyone else who's been involved on what they've achieved, and I'm looking forward to a very successful future for The Gardeners Rest."

The Gardeners Rest is one of Sheffield's most surreal watering holes, with Mark likening the wacky riverside garden to the 'inside of someone's brain', and one punter calling it probably the oddest place he'd visited after the Salvador Dali museum in Spain.

More than 380 investors pledged £237,600 to buy community shares in the pub, and that money will be topped up with a £50,000 grant from the government-funded Plunkett Foundation and a £50,000 loan.

It's not too late to become a community shareholder, with £100 enough to give you a stake in the pub.

MEET SOME OF THE NEW SHAREHOLDERS

Bryony Doran and her partner Bill Allerton, both of whom are writers, have been regulars at the pub's music nights despite having a long way to travel from their home in Crookes.

"When I heard about the buy-out I thought bring it on. As individuals these days we're so disempowered so if there's anything we can have some input into I think that's really nice," she said.

Paul and Bev Manning, of Handsworth, decided to invest as they are both real ale fans and the pub has an excellent reputation for its ever-changing line up of drinks.

"We like the choice of beer and it's a nice spot beside the river, so we wanted to do our bit to help keep it open. It's a great pub and they've done really well to raise the money," said the couple, who are both bankers, aged 54.

Kevin Bonnett, of Nether Edge, said: "The pub has a good reputation with CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale). The garden's nice and quirky and it's a great Sheffield scene, looking out over the river with the old steelworks opposite.

"I like the plans for the pub, especially the idea of getting people with learning disabilities involved. I think that's great."

Anil Ganesh said he fell in love with the pub when he first visited a couple of weeks after moving to Sheffield 18 years ago and was instantly made to feel at home.

The 56-year-old molecular biologist was living in Nether Edge at the time but moved to Kelham Mills 11 years ago and has been a regular ever since - other than the two years during which it was closed after being flooded.

"When I heard about the community share offer I thought I can't let a developer get their hands on it and pull it down, so I decided to give what I could," he said.