The Wonston Arms, a small community pub in the heart of a Hampshire village, has been named CAMRA’s national pub of the year.
The pub was derelict and empty just four years ago when the owner and landlord, Matt Todd, bought it. Since re-opening, it has focused on benefiting the local community. As a result, it has become an incredibly important asset for local residents, as well as a successful, growing business.
Alongside a selection of carefully kept cask ales and a gin bar with 180 varieties, the Wonston Arms boasts a range of pop-up foodie nights and social events, carefully selected to meet local demand. Darts matches, folk music, jazz sessions, quizzes, and a photography club all take place regularly, and local food vendors are invited for special fish and chip, pizza, and curry nights.
The Wonston Arms is also the heart of fundraising for the local area. To date, it has raised in excess of £25,000 from the pub community. Every month it hosts a pop-up cafe, which has raised more than £7,000 for local charitable causes.
Todd said: “I’m overwhelmed that our little pub — which had been handed a death sentence four years ago — has now been named the very best in the country. I have strived to recreate the kind of wet pub I went to in the 1970s with my dad, when I was a young boy in the north of England. The support from the local community and beyond has been overwhelming, helping to propel us forward despite these testing times.
“Ultimately, I’d like to see our pub play a vital role in supporting and employing local residents, and recirculating the local pounds that are spent in our pub. To do this, we need to ensure our continued survival with the likes of small business rate relief, which has been absolutely vital to getting us through our fledgeling years, helping us to realise our potential. Now we’re in a position where continuing to build our business may end up ensuring that we’re penalised for growth through the rates system, and we need all the help we can get!”
Local MP Steve Brine said: “The pub trade is not easy these days, to put it mildly. In this context, it is even more impressive what Matt Todd and the team have achieved. The fact he’s done so while staying so true to the values of real ale, a decent local pint and community is just great.”
Ben Wilkinson, national pub of the year co-ordinator, said: “Matt and his team have created a fantastic rural village pub with a great atmosphere by shaping it around the community and its needs. They have realised that it takes something special to create a sense of real belonging so that people want to come out of their homes and back in the pub.
“Pubs like the Wonston Arms highlight what communities stand to lose if their local pub closes — something being experienced in all too many places. These types of pubs are more than just businesses, they are the heart of our local communities and part of what makes the UK the country it is. The Wonston Arms serves excellent cask ales and is a great social environment for all. It fully deserves its title as the best in the country.”