HEINEKEN UK is raising the bar for the great British pub, pumping £42m into upgrading locals around the country in its Star Pubs & Bars’ estate in 2022.

Over £850,000 is being invested in three projects in the North East this year.

The Diamond in Ponteland recently reopened following a £350,000 makeover (£264,000 Star investment) and The Gate in Framwellgate following a £450,000 upgrade (£392,000 Star investment).

The Harbour Lights in South Shields is earmarked for a £193,000 investment to transform it into a top quality local with amazing views over the harbour.  The proposed internal and external upgrade, which is subject to recruiting new operators, will bring the pub up to date whilst retaining its traditional character. Inside the look will be stripped timber flooring, painted panelling, wooden tables and chairs and deep-buttoned leather banquette style seating.  Outside there will be chunky wooden tables and benches, cushioned covered seating and nautical lamps. The look and feel will be more premium and improve comfort for customers. A new kitchen is being fitted and the inside capacity increased by 27%.

The Star Pubs & Bars schemes in the North East reflect two long-term trends that have been accelerated and amplified by the pandemic – pubgoers’ increasing demand for quality and for outdoor socialising. New research* reveals that, since the pandemic, over 50% of pubgoers are treating themselves to better quality food and drink than they did pre-Covid, whilst a nice outdoor seating area has become more important to eight out of ten.

Pubs earmarked for major makeovers will be given a quality look and feel to deliver the premium experience customers want. Kitchen refits and new bars will enable them to keep up with pubgoers’ higher expectations for food and drink. People have developed a taste for eating and drinking alfresco as a result of the pandemic and are seeking out pubs with great gardens year-round. Many of the projects will therefore include external improvements. The investment will extend outdoor seating areas – making pubs more sustainable – and add the wow factor with features such as festoon lighting, artwork, heaters and covers.

The project at The Diamond, Ponteland saw a massive all-weather terrace created, and an interior upgrade. A six-by-six metre covered timber pergola and heated decked area with gas fire pit enable the space to be used most of the year. Feature trees under the canopy, metal privacy screens and rustic wooden tables and benches covered in sheep fleeces help create a unique ambience.

Inside, the pub’s traditional character has been retained with the furniture and décor upgraded to improve customer comfort and the overall look and feel of the pub.  On the back of the refurbishment more premium drinks and craft beer were introduced.

It reopened at the end of March and has been busy since.

Director Ollie Vaulkhard says: “The Diamond needed to move with the times and offer a more premium feel whilst staying true to its origins.

“Since reopening, we have been substantially busier than before the upgrade – with trade up 35%. The investment has broadened the pub’s appeal with everyone using it including more female customers.  People are coming in for breakfast, coffees, drinks and meals.  We have been overwhelmed by positive feedback since reopening with people saying it is just what the pub needed.  I couldn’t be happier.”

Lawson Mountstevens, Managing Director, Star Pubs & Bars, said: “People have stayed closer to home over the last two years due to the pandemic and turned to their local for the kind of experience they’d previously have travelled to a city centre, restaurant or bar to find. They don’t want to turn back time: they expect better quality including food and specialty drinks – such as cocktails – that are harder to recreate at home. It’s the same with gardens. Sitting outside at the pub has become a new occasion and, if the outside space is good enough, customers will wrap up to enjoy it even in the winter months. Outdoor facilities also remain important for those who are still cautious about going out as the UK learns to live with Covid.

“The cost-of-living squeeze on wallets is magnifying these trends. People are looking for a really great experience when they go out. These are challenging times. However, we are confident that well invested pubs that adapt to market changes will have a bright, long-term future.”