Landlady says her customers stopped her pub being a Covid casualty

Debbie Oliver, landlady of The Five Bells at Rattlesden, with Martin Bate (right) and Chris Bailey

Debbie Oliver, landlady of The Five Bells at Rattlesden, with CAMRA volunteer Martin Bate (right) and Chris Bailey (local CAMRA branch chairman). - Credit: Supplied by The Five Bells

A pub landlady has said if it wasn't for the support of the community during Covid her business would probably have folded.

Debbie Oliver says she feels honoured to have been the custodian of the Five Bells for 25 years and to have been welcomed as an integral part of this rural community over that time.

She credits locals with keeping her pub going during the difficult months of the coronavirus pandemic - and the "exceptional efforts" of the local community have been recognised by a special CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) award.

CAMRA members, Debbie Oliver (front row, second from left), staff and customers at the Five Bells

CAMRA members, Debbie Oliver (front row, second from left), staff and customers celebrate the Five Bells 'Community Pub of the Year' accolade. - Credit: CAMRA

Debbie has been presented with the West Suffolk CAMRA ‘Community Pub of the Year’ certificate, given to a pub or club that supports its local community in a unique way or that has itself been supported by them.

During lockdown regulars worked tirelessly, on a volunteer basis, to support Debbie and create a "fabulous" outside trading space, relocating the popular Petanque pitch in the process.

The pub's trading area has, as a result, increased by almost 50% and it is now back to its pre-lockdown, 12-hour a day trading.

Debbie said she didn't think the business would have continued without the support from the community.

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She added: "Even in the freezing cold in the winter when they had to be outside they still came with their coats and blankets and hot water bottles.

"It's my premises, my pub, but it's actually not. It's theirs. It's the customers'."

West Suffolk & Borders CAMRA chairman Chris Bailey presents Debbie Oliver with her 'Community Pub of the Year' certificate.

West Suffolk & Borders CAMRA chairman Chris Bailey presents Debbie Oliver with her 'Community Pub of the Year' certificate. - Credit: CAMRA

Debbie said the hardest part of the past 16 months had been not seeing anybody, adding the pub just felt "empty and awful".

Local CAMRA chairman Chris Bailey made a surprise presentation to Debbie at the pub on Wednesday, August 4.

He said: "When there’s a meeting of minds between a local publican and the community everyone in the vicinity benefits.

"This is a fine example of how a village pub can become the hub of the community.

"It helps breathe life into a village and brings a vibrancy which is unfortunately missing today in many rural communities.

"CAMRA isn’t just about real ale and cider. It also about supporting pubs and clubs to ensure they are recognised and continue to be sustainable community assets."

Debbie said it was "such a nice surprise" to receive the award, adding it was special because it was about her regular customers.

Debbie describes the Five Bells as a traditional pub with games including pool, darts and crib. It doesn't serve food.

It was a double celebration on Wednesday as the West Suffolk & Borders branch of CAMRA also launched their specially-commissioned beer festival preview ale Festivale.

Five Bells landlady Debbie Oliver and Martin Bate (Beer Festival organiser) prepare to pull the first pints of 'Festivale'

Five Bells landlady Debbie Oliver and Martin Bate (Beer Festival organiser) prepare to pull the first pints of 'Festivale', which has been brewed specially to help promote the beer festival. - Credit: CAMRA

The ale has been brewed in anticipation of the East Anglian Beer and Cider Festival taking place at St Edmundsbury Cathedral from August 25 to 30.

This golden, citrus, summer ale of 3.9% by volume has been created by Brewshed.

CAMRA volunteer Martin Bate who organises the festival said: “Festivale has been a huge success and we’ve sold out!

"I’m sure this is the first time a beer festival has sold over 3,000 pints of beer and raised over £1,000 for charity before even opening its doors."

The Old Cannon Brewery in Bury St Edmunds recently won a CAMRA 'Pub of the Month' award.


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