'Are we really supporting the high street?' asks Bury St Edmunds One Bull Pub owner David Marjoram
David Marjoram is a Bury boy. Having grown up, studied and started work in the town, it ‘felt wrong’ to move even a few miles out to Walsham-le-Willows. After this brief detour, the father-of-two soon moved his family back to Bury and in 2008 took over what was then considered the ‘roughest boozer in town,’ and is now the award-winning One Bull.
In the decade that followed he has taken on three more local pubs, including The Beerhouse in Bury St Edmunds, and has also established The Brewshed – which supplies beers to be sold at local businesses, as well as keeping the group’s barrels topped up. All the pubs have their own character, but are united by David’s vision of serving ‘good food and drink at sensible prices in a relaxed, friendly and clean environment’.
“It’s tough for pubs,” he said. “They need to do something interesting to survive. We had the opportunity with the One Bull to do what I thought a good, modern town centre pub should be. To me that was a nice open plan dining space, with fresh, reasonable, seasonal food. It was paying attention to the details, like nicer quality glassware.
“The word ‘pub’ should not be used as an excuse for things being tatty and the service being poor.” The developments to The One Bull have had a knock on effect for the ‘massive change’ in the Angel Hill area’s offering, with Francela, Voujon, 1921 and Cheers all refurbishing or moderinising. David said it is now becoming the ‘heart of the Bury food and drink scene’.
“If there is an excellent restaurant it would attract a really good bar as they feed off each other,” he added. “They all benefit from there being five or six outlets. More broadly, there is a sense of what the businesses can afford to do. Base costs in rents and rates locally make it more achievable (or not) in the first place.”
As well as knowing how to set-up and launch a business, David is also well-placed to comment on Bury’s high street – having previously served as a director on the town’s business improvement district (BID).
This autumn businesses within the BID area will vote on whether they will continue to pay a levy to fund events and services which could improve the town. David considers the BID, which launched in 2010, to have given a platform for businesses to communicate their feelings and give a voice to the community of the town – as well as champion Bury – in a way that had not happened before.
He said: “For the first time it has challenged some business owners to think about attracting people into Bury in the first place rather than compete against each other for those that are here.
The less competitive we need to be the more we can support each other. I think the BID has created an environment where it is easier to work together for the good of the town.”
He has pledged to vote for the scheme to continue for anotherterm, and has recommended others do the same. He hopes, however, that the board – which is headed by chief executive Mark Cordell – can deliver on a green message. “I’d love to see the BID take a lead on the environment in the town,” he said. “A lot needs to be done to improve it. I personally think BID is the best placed organisation to pull that together.”
David Marjoram owns five businesses around the Bury St Edmunds area.
- The Crown, in The Green, Hartest: The pub is both a meeting point for villagers and a major draw for people who live around the area.
- The Brewshed, Place Farm, Ingham: The brewery was established in 2011 in a shed behind The Beerhouse pub in Bury – but has since outgrown it and moved into its own domain. The beers produced are enjoyed in the group’s pubs – and also stocked in stocked in Abbeygate Cinema and The Six Bells.
- The Cadogan, The Street, Ingham: As well as the quality food and home brewed beer offered in all pubs – The Cadogan is also focused on being an inn, with seven en-suite rooms.
- The One Bull, Bury: The original pub in the empire has just celebrated its 11th anniversary. But the site’s origins near to the Abbey Gardens go back many years.
- The Beerhouse, Tayfen Road, Bury: This pub keeps it simple – offering a high quality range of beers and ales on tap.
David said it is currently the hardest time he has known in the industry, as consumers have less money, and have a saturated market with more restaurant seats than ever. Against these pressures, it becomes more important to find a way to stand out. Part of David’s vision with pubs is to create a ‘grown-up space’ that he felt was lacking at the time.
Somewhere, he says, for parents to meet for a coffee before a school-run; friends to meet for a pint; a couple to have a drink before going on somewhere else or for anyone to stay and enjoy a meal.
The focus for David and his staff of 90, across all pubs and the brewery, is on providing a quality experience for a customer. And, as has been said in a few different ways in this series of Love Local features, that can be key for a high street as a whole. David said: “Retailers need to accept the online presence isn’t going to change. There needs to be a point of difference, if you are selling a commodity like product in a commodity like way you are not going to be there in ten years’ time. It is too convenient to buy online, rather than paying to park and paying as much for same product you could get online for less hassle. Retailers need to get better at creating an experience and service.”
Read more: Cheers to brewery and Bury St Edmunds pub
The internet may challenge high street shops in a different way to a pub group, but David feels attitudes need to change if both are to be preserved. One idea of his would be to charge VAT on items delivered. But there is also an easy change that can be made, and anyone can do it.He said: “The consumer side keeps saying ‘we want to save the high street’. Are people really supporting it with their actions and doing what they say? Are they reading the Love Local articles while they’re clicking on Amazon to get things ordered?
“A pub example is that someone complains that their village pub is going to close and become housing. Well, unfortunately, it became housing because someone like you spent £10 a year there.
“We need to think about whether we want to make the effort to save what we have.”