A FARMING couple are to plough funding into reversing the trend of rural pub closures by re-opening a closed village hostelry.
Liam McNulty and Lauren Harrison keep sheep on their Willowford Farm at Gilsland on the Northumberland-Cumbria border.
The farm is on the Hadrian’s Wall national trail and the couple also run a bed and breakfast business.
The Samson Inn at Gilsland, at the far south west corner of Northumberland National Park, closed last summer when the former landlord died.
Now Liam and Lauren have decided to take it on and will re-open the pub, with its own chef, on May 3.
Liam said: “People in the village have been very supportive. They just want to see it re-open and there has been a lot of goodwill. We’ve been overwhelmed by the support that we’ve had from the community.”
The couple met at Manchester University, where Lauren graduated in maths and Italian and Liam was studying for a PhD in medical physics.
They came across Willowford Farm nine years ago while walking and heard that it was up for lease.
“It wasn’t something we had planned but we thought it would be a lovely place to run a business,” said Liam, who grew up near Haltwhistle in Northumberland.
“We thought the pub would be a business opportunity as a lot of people who stay at the farm B&B want a pub to go to for a pint and a meal, and it should help the village.”
Later this year, they plan to convert the upper floor of the pub into four en-suite bedrooms.
The couple, who have a two-month-old daughter, Anne, applied for a grant from the National Park’s sustainable development fund to help with upgrading the pub facilities, including the exterior, the toilets, and the bar and restaurant areas.
The SDF grants panel awarded £11,625 to help towards the costs, since the project would benefit other local residents, accommodation providers and local food producers, and because its position will provide a service to visitors to Hadrian’s Wall and beyond. Anna Charlton, for the panel, said: “The reopening and refurbishment of the Samson Inn will go a long way to help make the village sustainable. After all, the pub is at the heart of any community and it is promising to see a reversal in the recent trend of rural pub closures.” Around 30,000 visitors walk the Gilsland section of the wall trail each year.
Tony Gates, National Park chief executive, who sits on the board of Northumberland Tourism, said: “The National Park Authority is delighted to see a new outlet for local food and provision for tourism at a gateway to the park.
“We have set a pretty stretching target to grow the visitor economy in Northumberland by 6% over the next few years, and its small businesses like the Samson Inn which will help to get us there.“