Sheffield's best pub: How The Gardeners Rest goes beyond the call of duty
The place in Neepsend has won the Pub of the Year 2019 award from the Sheffield branch of the Campaign for Real Ale, in recognition of the way it goes beyond the call of duty – in particular, its partnership with social enterprise Yes 2 Ventures which gives work to people with learning difficulties.
“Whatever we do, we do it well and people are seeking us out,” said Dan Carter, co-director and licensee.
"I think the mere fact that we've survived where so many other pubs have closed down shows that people are choosing to get up of their settees and tear themselves away from their phones and come out to somewhere that they think is worth coming to. We're drawing people in. It's not just that they're round the corner, either, they have to make a conscious effort to come to this pub to take in, and be part of, what we are and what we have."
Dan said the pub had always been a community space, long before the present team took over. The previous owners, Pat Wilson and Eddie Munelly, sold up to enjoy their retirement touring Britain’s canals; afterwards, around 420 people answered the call to preserve the riverside venue’s charms, raising £236,000 by buying shares.
“We welcome people like the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery and Friend of Hillsborough Park, and we've got a poetry night, Gorilla Poetry – they come in once a month,” said Dan.
“We've tried to build on Pat and Eddy's work, too, with our social inclusion programme, which has brought people in with additional support needs – learning difficulties, in some cases. They help with valued jobs around the pub including garden maintenance and sandwich preparation."
Tucked away in Neepsend, The Gardeners Rest is a pub that will live and die on its reputation, as Dan is well aware. For starters it has ‘all the basic things for a good pub’, he said.
"Well kept beer, nice atmosphere, a friendly place to be... We ticked all those boxes but I think the social inclusion side of it set us apart. We are more than a pub. There's no geographical community round here particularly at the moment, although we think that will change, so people choose to come out of their way and use this pub. It's about keeping that alive. I think we've done a good job and obviously recognition from CAMRA enforces that we have. You can see that change in the Kelham Island area that's already happened. Now it's creeping out toward Neepsend.”
The social enterprise partnership is giving people skills that will last a lifetime, he pointed out.
“For those who've been trained in skills that will be useful to them going forward, like bar work, cellar work and garden maintenance, then that's obviously brilliant to have helped them progress in their lives. For others, like those who attend the art group, just that social element is brilliant. It's something they can come and do and feel safe doing.”
Juliet Portchmouth – who initially started as a bar worker – helps to lead the art class. “She's got a definite knack for that,” Dan said. “In fact, Juliet was here initially as bar staff and we saw that in her, the ability to work well with people with additional support needs, she's very approachable, very friendly and so the fit with her and the group works fantastically well."
The art group meets in the pub’s airy, conservatory-style back room. The small group works enthusiastically on everything from plant pots to paintings and bird boxes. The large garden to the rear of the pub offers plenty of crafting opportunities.
Juliet said: "It's excellent that we've got the award. It makes you feel good, we must be doing something right. I understand the reason we've won the award is the fact that we do all these extra things, on top of having good beer and a good atmosphere. When the weather was better we had the art group outside but there's too much rain at the minute. We could do water colours, couldn't we?”
Matthew Stokoe, an art group regular who was busy getting creative alongside his friend Andrew Burkinshaw, said it offered ‘something different to do’. "It gets me out of the house and I can draw better now. I feel more comfortable coming in here because I know the people. I struggle going to new places and there is community here.”