Neil brings a boon to Staffordshire

We have been nothing but lax at Simply HQ in the old blogging department despite the fact that much has been afoot here in the garden office!

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In celebration of our return to blogland we thought we must share our latest adventure into the world of real ale, behaving badly and celebs in Staffordshire. As Staffordshire increasingly attracts new business, press coverage on a national scale and a new glow of popularity, I was very excited to be invited to the preview evening of the all new Plume of Feathers pub in Barlaston and to an interview with the man behind the £400,000 refurbishment of the well known canal side pub, Neil Morrissey. For me it is yet another sign that we in Staffordshire can attract, support and show off great venues, ale, food and hospitality, even with some celebrity sprinkle, just as well as chef hot counties like Cornwall, Norfolk & Gloucestershire.

The adventure started with an interview with Neil Morrissey prior to the preview evening last night. I had asked our members what questions they thought I should ask, but after discarding the rude/saucy ones, I was left with just a couple of ideas. As you may imagine, my angle was very much about his plans to embrace Staffordshire, its people, food, places & culture.

Neil is very easy to talk to and certainly happy to discuss his genuine affection for Staffordshire. The pub was a hive of activity, training and last minute preparations, with Neil getting stuck in with lighting fires and preparing the ale. He firstly acknowledged that Staffordshire is often left alone as folks rush to London or up north to Yorkshire and the Lakes and yet is as important, if not more so, with particular mentions of poetry, pottery and  industry – something we are familiar with.

Given that I was representing over 130 Simply member businesses, I asked what his plan were for local sourcing, guest ales in the pub and local food and he was nothing but enthusiastic. He plans to find & introduce more local ales and micro brewery delights to sit alongside his own ales, Joules & Marstons and wants to host beer festivals to celebrate just those local producers and brewers (naturally I was able to recommend a few to get him started!). It was also heart warming to hear that all their food is locally sourced and that the Staffordshire Oatcake hasn’t been forgotten. Oatcake Rarebits and the all new “Neil’s Hangover Breaker” – a full English breakfast including an oatcake and Bloody Mary both feature permanently on the menu.

We got past food briefly and I asked him what had motivated the project location in Staffordshire and what had been the highlight so far. His heartfelt and immediate response was “It’s my roots…”, that it brought him back to his childhood and it has proved to be a “rather lovely and marvellous” experience after 30 years in London. After the mayhem of the refurbishment, he is looking forward to regular trips to Staffordshire with an opportunity to start exploring the area again and re acquainting himself with the countryside he loved as a child. His memories, as well as his perception of the treasures of Staffordshire today, seem to intertwine as he talked about Staffordshire being rooted in countryside and nature with memories of climbing trees, hunting stickle backs, fishing for Pike and, above all, the warm, friendly people of our county. His affection for down to earth, “solid” Staffordshire people is evident in his current reading matter (an A S Byatt book featuring Philip, a passionate potter) and his understanding that a person from Stoke will always turn their cup over, wherever they are in the world (and yes, Burleigh’s classic Calico pattern was evident in the crockery last night at The Plume…).

We moved onto business and the importance of networking and staying in touch with your fellow local enterprises & community – I shoe-horned an introduction to the concept of #staffordshirehour on Twitter. Social media will certainly feature at the pub as will events, beer festivals and a building of new relationships to embed the Plume into its community. His vision is to have a pub with great ale, local food, excellent customer service, the occasional rugby match on the telly backed up with events, fair prices and a cosy, warm atmosphere. I have to report that this was certainly the case last night. The pub is centred round a huge roaring log burner and surrounded by many a pictures of Men Behaving Badly, local photography and blackboards celebrating the ales and food. Cool and contemporary but with a warm & relaxed feel, the staff were very polished and full of smiles and fun. The food was delicious and those partaking, reported good ale. They mercifully got the oatcake canapés just right too…no microwaving or dried, crispy edges.

To finish off our chat, I wanted his top tips for running a business in Staffordshire to pass on to Simply members and the answer was simple…enjoy what you do, pour in the love and people will catch your joy. Rather a fabulous sentiment I think for our beloved Staffordshire.

Thank you to Neil and all the staff at The Plume for a lovely evening – we wish you all the best.