Features Walthamstow

Walthamstow pub ‘doing better than expected’ after controversial revamp

Stonegate’s operations director said they are aiming at a “millennial or Gen Z target market”
By Victoria Munro

New general manager Dave Morrish (centre) with bar staff
New general manager Dave Morrish (centre) with bar staff

Almost a month after reopening, The Bell in Walthamstow is “doing better than anticipated” and invites sceptical locals to “come in and see for themselves”.

The popular pub in Forest Road was taken in-house earlier this year by landlord Stonegate Group, the UK’s largest pub company, forcing out its manager of the last decade.

The pub closed for a £418,000 refurbishment in September, which involved installing 14 TV screens and painting over a popular piece of street art, and reopened on 21st October.

Of the 12 staff that worked at the pub under previous manager Andy Potter, only four decided to stay on, while Stonegate hired an additional 16, bringing the total team up to 20.

Inside The Bell (credit: Leisure PR)

Speaking to the Echo today, new manager Dave Morrish said he is “open to frank discussions with locals” about how best to run the pub, adding: “Where there’s things I can change, I can change them.

“A regular came in on the first day and said there was too much furniture and you couldn’t move around – we had a talk and I felt she had a valid point and agreed to rejig things.

“For us, it’s about making the pub welcoming, we let the little ones in and we’re very dog-friendly – I have two myself. 

“Coming up we have the World Cup and the Christmas period but, once that’s finished, we’re looking at introducing live music and possibly Sunday roasts in the future.”

He said he was happy to see many of the groups that previously used the pub starting to return and plans to reintroduce the popular weekly quiz, ideally with the original quizmaster in charge.

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New art courtesy of Beavertown

Asked what he felt made The Bell a success, Dave said: “Probably that community aspect, which is something I want to build on. I’ve come from running a village pub in Burton-on-Trent, where everyone knew everybody.

“If somebody had said Walthamstow to me when I was there, I would only have thought of the stadium and [the band] E17. But circumstances led me to London, where Stonegate offered me a number of sites and this one appealed to me most.

“It’s in a good eclectic area with a good mix of environments and, when I walked down the hill and saw the pub, I fell in love with it straight away.

“I’ve been working in pubs since I was 16, when I started as a pot-washer, so that would make it 30 years now.”

The Bell in Forest Road (credit: Leisure PR)

While some locals feared The Bell might become a sports pub or begin to resemble other Stonegate-run local pubs like The Goose, the company’s operations director Neil McKie was keen to reassure that this will not be the case. 

He said: “I think there’s a perception versus reality issue, for example with the TV screens. There’s not banks of TVs across the walls, they fit in with the overall decor.

“Sports is only part of the offering, although there are people that come in and like that element, which is something we shouldn’t forget about. 

“We have invested in the pub and it’s doing better than we anticipated. We would just ask that people come in and see for themselves.”

He added that The Bell is being run as one of Stonegate’s “social pub and kitchens” – as opposed to The Goose, which is considered a “proper pub” – aimed at a “millennial or Gen Z target market”.

Explaining what this means, he said: “It’s food-driven and has an extensive craft beer range[… and] community is at the heart of everything we do.

“That’s one of the reasons Dave was brought in, because of his community background. Community is not just found on housing estates as some people believe, it’s also about being part of the high street.”

Regarding the painting over of a piece of street art during the refurbishment, he said that this was a “mistake” and Stonegate has reached out to the artist about a possible replacement, adding there are no plans to remove the Space Invader still on the building.

A plaque honouring the memory of a late regular, which was briefly missing from one of the benches outside, has now been returned.

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