Pub of the Year 2016 - and the winner is ...
A community which rallied round to save its local pub is raising glasses in celebration once more after scooping a second massive victory.
The Wellfield Hotel, in Beech Hill, was crowned Pub of the Year by the readers of the Wigan Evening Post and our sister paper the Wigan Observer.
It is an incredible turnaround for a watering hole which was facing being shut down and possibly demolished for housing at the start of this year.
Regulars launched a desperate campaign to save the Wellfield Road pub formally known as Sam’s Bar and it re-opened under its original name in May with first-time manager and former singer Chris Tolley behind the bar.
His skills at running a pub have been instantly noticed with drinkers flocking to crown the Wellfield, which now has asset of community value (ACV) status, the best in the borough.
Chris, 31, said: “It’s lovely to win, it means everything. It was closed before and it was going to go but the community saved it and this just puts the top hat on it.
“It’s all the more special that it’s the readers who voted for it. It’s the people showing they’ve got pride in their own pub and the place they go.
“They’ve got behind us twice this year, first to save it and now to come out on top in this award.
“I don’t think we ever thought this was achievable so soon but we’re just so thankful to everybody in the community. It’s a phoenix rising from the ashes.”
The Wellfield has been a major part of Chris’ life as he was brought up just a few doors down the road and now runs it along with co-manager Jean Cubas.
The team took the Pub of the Year prize with town centre traditional pub The Raven in second place and Pesto at the Dicconson Arms in Appley Bridge taking third.
Chris says the secret to his success has been to bring back a community feel which allows drinkers of all ages to feel at home but also bring in elements of urban pubs.
With ward councillors prominently supporting the ACV bid Chris has turned the venue into something of a community hub and has also used his background in music to put on a popular programme of entertainment.
He said: “Even though we’re in Beech Hill we’re getting passing trade. People are coming in for a few drinks before heading on elsewhere and with the events we’re aiming for a town centre feel.
“We’ve also want it to be enjoyable and fun for everyone, we get 18-year-olds in here and recently did an 80th birthday party. We have people who’ve been drinking here for the 60 years it has been open. It’s about creating a friendly atmosphere with no trouble.”
Chris is already looking forward to the future and has started an extensive programme of renovation, with the function room already refurbished and attention turning to the main bar area next year.
He says the Wellfield will be keen to defend its title in 2017 but may also look further afield and compete for national community pub honours.
A victory party is planned for Friday December 16.