White Lion, Walkern

Written by: Sarah Milward
Date added: Tue, 28/05/2019 - 16:25

Partnering the right person with the right pub has always been at the heart of Pub Partners’ ethos, with a Hertfordshire pub showing straight away how this can be a recipe for success.

The White Lion in Walkern is a Grade-II-listed building dating back to the 16th century and its latest custodian is Gary Jackets, who runs the pub alongside his partner Jackie Williams and her daughter Sophie Williams.

After taking the pub over in January 2018, the team has seen a significant rise in the number of customers, in no small part thanks to their dedication in putting the pub right at the heart of village life, with its pub garden hosting outdoor cinema nights, a dog show, comedy and music festivals and much more besides.

“I spent ages looking for a pub that had a blank canvas so we could bring some ideas to the table,” Gary recalls. “It’s in a lovely village and was totally underutilised previously. It very rarely opened during the day even though it’s in a massive thoroughfare for ramblers, cyclists and dog walkers.”

When he took on the pub, Gary asked Greene King’s permission to knock down a fence at the rear of the garden to make use of some additional land owned by the pub company to double the size of the garden.

Gary says: “I put together a proposal where we took our garden fence down, cultivated the land and extended the garden. I’ve reintroduced an old musical festival that used to be there and also used the space to put on other outdoor events. The village didn’t really know what had hit it when we turned up. It’s gone from being a sleepy, underutilised community pub to being an entertainment centre. We put on an outdoor cinema, music festival, comedy festival, and then the talking point in the summer was the World Cup.”

Gary hired a giant inflatable cube while the World Cup was on, complete with televisions inside, which allowed hundreds more people to visit the pub from far and wide to watch matches on the big screen and truly make the most of its outdoor space.

It is this ability to maximise the pub’s assets that has seen Gary and the team achieve so much in only 18 months.

“This year we’ve got a dog show planned, as well as a car show,” he says. “Gone are the days from 20 years ago when you would open the front doors and matey would come in with his flat cap and whippet and sit at the bar all day drinking beer. Now, the pubs that don’t survive are the ones that don’t give people more than just beer.

“Everyone says how welcoming they’re made to feel when they come through the door, whether they’re a local, regular or a stranger. Everyone who comes through the door gets a ‘hello’. It’s all about me, Jackie and Sophie being there. One of us is always there. Customers want to see a friendly face and a lot of the stuff we’re doing isn’t rocket science. It’s what publicans should be doing nowadays.”

Gary has run venues since 1985 covering, as he puts it, “everything from bog-standard real ale house to multinational live entertainment venues”.  He also left the industry between 2005 and 2016 to work as a detective for Essex Police but said it was the lure of being his own boss that brought him back to the pub industry.

The pub now has a worldwide following, thanks to Gary’s prolific use of social media to keep the pub’s community up-to-date on the latest goings on at the pub.

“I’ve got friends around the world who follow the White Lion because they want to follow our story. Every day is a new story for the pub.”

Despite there being no World Cup this year to bring customers in, The White Lion already has plenty of activities lined up that should see it continue thriving in its role at the heart of village life.