Winning Ways: Farmers Arms, Warrington.

We meet Mark Condliffe, licensee of The Farmers Arms near Warrington, who previously won Best Outdoor Area at the Star Pub Awards.

In awarding the Best Outdoor Area title to the Farmers Arms, the distinguished panel of judges put the win down to one factor: the hard work of licensee Mark Condliffe. After an extensive refit, local man Mark reopened the pub with a mission to restore the pub to its proper place at the heart of the local community. As his award shows, he has achieved huge success in this ambition, so we asked him for his top tips on creating a truly great beer garden…

Know Your Market – “I’m actually from Warrington, and I used to be a regular customer at The Farmers Arms, which helped give me an insight into the local market. But I took the pub on because I could not bear to see a great local, which had once been very popular, closed.”

Have a clear idea of what you want – “Knowing the area meant I could focus on what potential customers really wanted from a good pub. The Farmers Arms is surrounded by houses and the estate is a popular place to live for families, so I wanted to create a space that catered for a broad age range. From parents with small children to grandparents celebrating a family occasion, I wanted an outdoor area to be a central feature of the whole offer.”

Recognise your pub’s potential  – “The pub had a disused bowling green which was completely overgrown and a real tip. I do think pubs miss a trick if they don’t make full use of their outdoor areas because everyone, not just smokers, like to be outside. I therefore set about trying to build a beer garden that everyone could enjoy, rain or shine. I cleared the rubbish, landscaped
the grass and built some all-weather wooden shelters.”

Make the most of your personal skill set  – “I have to admit I enjoy DIY and once I got started I couldn’t stop having new ideas and adding them to my plans! After I’d built the shelters, I laid a new flagstone patio, planted up the garden’s borders and installed a children’s play area.”

Plan for wet weather – “Naturally the weather in the north west can be wet and cold, even in summer, so I also installed suitable outdoor heaters and lights in the shelters and got hold of lots of giant umbrellas. The umbrellas are branded by Bulmers cider, and the bright yellow colours seem to cheer up even the greyest days.”

Try and make your garden stand out from the competition  – “Of course, lots of pubs in the area have beer gardens but I like to think it’s the attention to detail that makes the difference at the Farmers Arms. I tried to use the best materials my budget would allow and made sure that I installed good quality seating to match the permanent fixtures, such as the shelters.”

Make the outdoor offer consistent with the indoor offer  – “When I took over the pub, it was looking very tired and run down, so the outdoor work was part of a much larger scheme to refurbish the indoor bars and trade areas. The point is, I couldn’t ignore the outside, as that would detract from the inside and vice versa. After all, customers make their first judgement about a pub by looking at it from the outside!”

Make the outdoors an extension of the indoors – “I wanted the outdoor trade area to be a reflection of the whole pub’s family friendly offer and a place where people could eat, drink and socialise, whatever the weather. To help achieve this, we fitted French windows that open out onto the garden so people can come and go easily. Apart from anything else, having a useable garden means we can cater for more customers, and more customers hopefully means more cash in the tills!”