The Bell set up for an exciting future after WCC retail and hospitality grant
"The grant has been such a help...it has been a really difficult year and, at a time like that, it is just nice to feel supported."
A Rugby pub has made improvements that will benefit customers far into the future thanks to funding from a Warwickshire County Council scheme designed to support the beleaguered hospitality sector.
Rachel Slatcher has run The Bell Inn at Hillmorton for 13 years but this year, with two lockdowns and multiple restrictions, has brought challenges like no other.
Those challenges go on, but Rachel and her team are facing them with greater confidence after upgrading the pub's outdoor catering space with support from the council's Retail and Hospitality Recovery and Investment Grants scheme.
The scheme is part of an initial £6 million package of funding earmarked by Warwickshire County Council to support the immediate economic recovery in the county. The rapid release of funding has made available grants of between £2,000 and £7,500 to provide long-lasting benefits for the businesses, their local communities and the local economy.
At The Bell, the funding has enabled improvements that will draw customers for years to come.
"The grant has meant that we have transformed our outside space," said Rachel. "We now have a large area, including four self-contained booths, which is covered, lit and heated where people can sit and eat in comfort.
"This will be brilliant when the restrictions ease, but also going forward in the long term. I am really excited about the future and what we can do next winter, for example, perhaps with events round the Christmas market.
"The grant has been such a help. It has been a really difficult year and, at a time like that, it is just nice to feel supported. I have got an amazing team, including a wonderful apprentice, at the Bell and just want to keep their jobs as safe as possible and this is a big step towards that."
Like all pubs, during lockdown the Bell has had to close except to serve takeaways. It has been a very testing period but the pub has had good support from its local community and intends to remain part of that community for many years to come.
"Our regular customers have been great," said Rachel. "They can't wait to be back and we can't wait to have them back and the improvements we have made have put us in a very good place for when that happens.
"Those improvements, and the council support, have given me the confidence to stay open. I know quite a few pubs have looked at operating costs and potential customer-levels and not bothered to open...that is a road we never wanted to go down."
The first round of Retail and Hospitality Recovery and Investment Grants saw 40 businesses supported with funding totalling £215,000. Businesses are now encouraged to consider applying for the second round which will open early in 2021.