Rach Horne interviews Steve Pugh the co-owner of Terminus a new micropub and discusses the changing landscape of village pub life.
Growing up in an ex-mining village, pub life and the friendships that came with it were at the heart of the community. That’s why our next door neighbours Eric and Maragret bought me a beer tanker with my name engraved on it as a christening present. The beer tanker symbolised family life, friendships and as my mum recently described the communal love of “supping”.
My family were regulars at the Castle Inn pub in Conisbrough from their early twenties until it closed in the norties. We have many happy memories of the pub, my parents often reminiscence; it’s wasn’t just a place for drinking, it was a social centre for friends and extended family to meet.
In recent years we’ve seen many traditional pubs and clubs close across the country, according statista.com from 2000-2019 over 13,600 pubs have closed their doors across the UK. It is likely a further 2000 have closed since pandemic. Villages like Conisbrough have changed dramatically becoming commuter towns where residents often travel for work and what they do socially leading to the decline of local village pubs. Yet, despite this decline Steve Pugh and his wife Denise saw a gap in the market for the very modern micropub business model. As described on the Micropub Association website you can expect “a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks”. It’s proving to be a winning success locally.
What do you remember about village pub life when you grew-up and how does it compare to today?
It’s changed radically. All pubs and clubs were busier as they were the main outlet for most of the social life in the village. In Conisbrough alone there were 16 licensed premises. Now there’s only 9, of which two are micropubs that’ve opened in the last two years. Most pubs in the 1980’s were successful as they had loyal patrons who organised most of the activities, like savings clubs, darts and pub games teams, football and cricket sides etc. They were the hub of the community. Now, that connection is largely dead.
Pit village life was very special in that everyone was so connected and worked in the village. The pubs were part of that spirit. 30 years ago it was easy to know people in the village and feel connected. If people don’t know their neighbours, like they once did how do you think that effects peoples quality of life in the village? Why did you start the micropub was was it connected to the way village life has changed?
Conisbrough has turned into a commuter town particularly the newer housing like the Kilner Estate on the old Cadeby Colliery car park. Pubs have always been a convenient space for conversation and planning. As one of the ex-landlords of my local in the 90s said, “a pub is the biggest house on the street so it made sense to hold meetings and community events inside it”. Somewhere over the last 30 years this has been lost. Largely in my opinion due to the closure of heavy industry like coal mining. It’s a cliche often cited, but I believe it to be correct: community meeting place like pubs, churches, even corner shops, all declined once the big employers disappeared. Being an ex-miner and living in this village all my life it’s been heartbreaking to see. When I helped organise the Conisbrough section of the Tour de Yorkshire in 2014 that spirit was briefly rekindled. It’s still there under the surface and given the opportunity Conisbrough people will always come out and “do their bit” The micropub ethos sort of fits into this, which is why I liked the idea. It’s basically a small independent business which we’ve worked hard to make attractive to local residents.
What other events and community projects have you been involved in locally?
I fell into organising community events because I was sick of the negativity aimed at Conisbrough, particularly on social media. I love where I live, we have so much potential. I instigated the annual music festival along with a couple of other local organisers. We’d had no prior experience organising anything on that scale so we made it up as we went along. By year three we had over 5,000 people attending. Back in 2015 I approached English Heritage who manage Conisbrough Castle about permanently lighting it at night. Together with our local councillors this was finally achieved earlier in the year. As part of that process we hit on the idea of a Poppy projection to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. From inception to implementation it took six weeks and we had 10,000 people attend. Conisbrough got lots of positive press and regional TV broadcast from the castle live. This is probably the biggest event I’ve organised. The micro-pub idea is something that grew out of the music festival. The guy who provided the bar each year, runs the Imperial Brewery in Mexborough, it was his idea to open a micropub in the village. The concept is simple, emphasis is on local suppliers, conversation is encouraged, music is limited to the background.
Why did you decide on the name Terminus?
Up to 1961 Brook Square was where the Trolleybuses turned around. It was known as the Conisbrough Low Terminus. The Conisbrough High Terminus was on Wembley Avenue in Conanby where the shops are. After 1961 the buses replaced the trolleybus and they altered the road junction with the A630. I wanted the pub name to reflect a piece of Conisbrough history, hence the name. Older people will remember this, ask your mum and dad. Terminus is a Latin name meaning end point or finish. This also seemed to fit as our micropub is somewhere people can meet after work or shopping.
What have you learnt since opening the micro pub?
Everything haha! Before we opened, both Denise and I had never worked behind a bar. It’s been an interesting few weeks but ultimately so far very rewarding. Most of the people walking through the door are local to us, some are neighbours that we’ve never spoken to.
What’s the venue like and what drinks do you serve?
All micropubs are small with one room with four tables a unisex toilet and that’s it. We can accommodate around 35 people seated and standing. Internally decor is reflective of Conisbrough history as much as is possible. We have a small book exchange where people can leave their old books and take another to read. We ask for a £1 donation if you want to buy a book, this is donated to the local library. We have an advertising screen which is used for local agents and also scrolls old photos and drone footage of the castle, church and viaduct. The bar is engraved with a Conisbrough timeline including dates for the building of the church etc. Drinks a the same as you’d find in most pubs, although we don’t stock generic beers like John Smith and Carling. Instead we have Sheffield Stancill Pilsner and a rotation of local cask ales from local breweries. As we are completely independent we can change our beers frequently, with casks that’s weekly. We’ve just started to replace some of our spirits with local suppliers like Sheffield Distillery. The emphasis is very much on local as there’s so much to choose from within 15 miles of the pub.
Do you have any local events coming up?
Our big news is that my wife Denise has retired after 40 years service from the NSH and will be playing a more active role. We have plans for acoustic nights, pub painting, arts and crafts as well as traditional stuff like a quiz night. There’s certainly lots to come in the future.
Follow Terminus of Facebook HERE
Conisbrough Music Festival HERE
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