We've been publicans at the Weighbridge Pub in Alvechurch for almost 15 years now. The building was once the old weighbridge office for offloading coal barges to horse and cart for local deliveries. Before we took over, it was a private club, and we could see it was missing its full potential as a cosy canalside freehouse, so our challenge was to attract lots of customers by creating a friendly pub serving good home-cooked food and well-kept real ale.
It was a big move for me to give up my previous job to become a publican. I trained as a chef and originally worked in contract catering before coming here. I was most used to really posh cooking so I had to be careful to create a balanced menu that all my different customers here would want. I think we're getting it right because we have our regulars, and customers from the boats say to us we're the cheapest food they've eaten all their holiday - and usually they say, "and the best!" People from abroad seem to want local food. We get them coming in for breakfast and they say "Ooh, full English - I'm having that!" Even if they don't know what it is, they want it anyway. I'm often asked "What's black pudding?", but I'm never sure how to tell them!
At first I managed the pub on my own because John worked as a welder at the boatyard here. He did his day's work welding and then came to work in the pub in the evenings. He was just getting more and more tired, so eventually he joined me fulltime. I'm a chef, and the truth is I'm useless behind the bar - John just gets irritated with me, so it's better if he pulls the pints!
People tell us there's something special about this pub, and I think part of that might be because we're not like bigger pubs that have lots of staff - we're just a small team who are here all the time, and that helps us know our customers.
As well as our local customers we get lots of boating holidaymakers from overseas. It's amazing how the canal brings so many different people to a little village pub! We serve customers who are Swedish, American, Norwegian, French, German, Chinese...
We're only a small pub and often fully booked, yet we seem to keep expanding the business. For example, ABC Boats now run a daytrip boat too from the boatyard and I've started offering buffet food for them. And of course we have a well-known reputation for our beer festivals too!
It means a lot to us that we've won so many CAMRA awards for the Weighbridge pub. We're proud of all of them, but the first was a special moment for us. In the early days when we took over the pub, the local Redditch and Bromsgrove Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA) group came into the pub and gave us a write-up in their magazine 'Pint Taken'. Their report said it was a lovely pub apart from the lack of real ales. So we went to see a local brewer and started with one real ale, and our range has just grown and grown! Our regular beers are Tillerman's Tipple brewed exclusively for us by local brewery Weatheroak Ales, and Bargees Bitter brewed by Kinver Brewery.
We were especially proud to win the CAMRA award for best pub in the West Midlands. Pubs are judged by CAMRA's members on all the elements that make a great pub - atmosphere, decor, customer service, value for money, clientele mix, and obviously the quality of the real ale and food. As one of the Regional Pub of the Year winners we got down to the last 16 in the national best – so, to be crowned National Pub of the Year is our next challenge!
It's quite hard to leave the pub, but when we get time off we sometimes go boating. John used to have his own boat, called Flotation, but ironically it sank! Whenever we can, we hire a boat from ABC Boats and just cruise around the canals.
When I think about it, I don't know where the last 15 years went, they've flown by... and who knows what we'll see in another 15!
Jayne & John, Alvechurch, Worcester & Birmingham Canal