Features Walthamstow

Last orders at The Bell

The Bell’s closing party ran out of all draught beer by 9.30pm
By Victoria Munro

Departing manager Andy Potter and his wife Louisa
Departing manager Andy Potter and his wife Louisa

The final pint ever pulled at The Bell – at least in the form Walthamstow has known it for the last decade – was sold at approximately 9.30pm last Thursday.

The unofficial goodbye party for much-loved manager Andy Potter, forced out of the pub he has transformed since taking it over in 2012, went on for several more hours but the draught beer was out – quickly followed by the bottled beers, the wine and the Coca Cola.

Last month, the Echo reported that The Bell’s landlord Stonegate Group had rejected Andy’s application to renew his lease, deciding instead to take the now-profitable business over themselves.

On 15th September, devoted customers gathered for the pub’s closing party before it shut down for refurbishment. Leaked plans, widely shared online, had left many nervous about what The Bell will be like once it reopens.

Leaked plans for the refurb, with 14 new TV screens in yellow

Andy’s wife Louisa told the Echo the pair had known “for a long time” they would be pushed out once their lease came up for renewal but that there was “nothing that could be done”.

She said: “We didn’t tell the whole of Walthamstow for a while because, in a way, what’s the point? We didn’t want the drama and the trauma to be drawn out.

“We have made something we are really proud of. This pub took in £3,500 a week when we took it over and now it takes in £30,000.

“When we came here, there was nothing really on this corner. The only reason Stonegate gave us this pub was because none of the big boys wanted to take it over because it was too risky. But, from the day we opened our doors, the response from the Walthamstow community was incredible.”

The pair now plan to move their family to Louisa’s native New Zealand and are glad they’ve been able to go out on a high.

She added: “The bigger issue now is saving the pubs that desperately do want to keep going. My worry is that the industry is becoming a monopoly.”

This story is published by Waltham Forest Echo, Waltham Forest's free monthly newspaper and free news website. We are a not-for-profit publication, published by a small social enterprise. We have no rich backers and rely on the support of our readers. Donate or become a supporter.

The last pint ever pulled at the current Bell

Leon Brathwaite, an ex-employee who worked at the pub from 2012 to 2016, said he was worried about The Bell’s future after learning about plans to add 14 TV screens.

He said: “I think it’s short-sightedness and greed on Stonegate’s part. For them to turn this into yet another spit and sawdust sports bar is heartbreaking. 

“Andy turned this pub into one that has won several awards, including best east London pub of the year.”

A current bar worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said that while all staff were given the option to keep their jobs, only a few were willing to stay and “try it out”.

She added: “It’s heartbreaking, I’ve been crying on and off all evening. This was a proper local pub.

“They’re bringing in new management and the business model is going to be different, more like the pubs they already have, but I don’t think that makes much sense for this area.”

The Bell (credit: Penny Dampier)

However, while many locals have expressed violent opposition to Stonegate’s takeover, some are agnostic or even excited about the coming changes.

Stuart Renshaw, who has been visiting the pub since Andy took it over, told the Echo: “I’ve got an open mind; it would be nice if it stayed the same but we will have to wait and see. 

“I’ve been in Walthamstow for 30 years and I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years – some have been good and some have been bad.”

Another customer, who lives only minutes away and asked to be anonymous for fear of angering his friends, admitted he was “excited” for the new Bell.

He said: “This place is currently like a creche on the weekends. I think partly because they’ve stopped doing live music since Covid.

“I’m hoping it’ll become a bit more like The Chequers in the High Street. I’m a big sports fan and, if you can watch the away game here, that might bring in a younger crowd.

“People are worried because it’ll be run by the same people as The Goose and The Palmerston but I think, because of where it’s situated, you’re not going to get that station pub crowd.”

Shortly after the announcement about The Bell, staff at The Flowerpot – another Stonegate-owned pub in Walthamstow – learned their pub was also changing hands.

While local favourite Ye Olde Rose & Crown’s lease with Stonegate is not up for renewal until 2024, manager Bun Constantinou told the Echo recent developments have left him uncertain of their long-term future.

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