The Wonston Arms, a small community pub nestled in the heart of a Hampshire village, has been named the best in the country in CAMRA’s prestigious National Pub of the Year awards 2018, the most respected and well-known pub accolade in the UK.
The pub was derelict and empty just four years ago when the owner and landlord Matt Todd bought it. Since its reopening, the pub has focused on benefitting the local community and, as a result, 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 of 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. For example, every month it hosts a pop-up cafe, which has raised over £7,000 for local charitable causes.
Owner and landlord Matt 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 that 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 Coordinator 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.”
Pubs in the competition are selected by CAMRA volunteers and judged on their atmosphere, decor, welcome, service, community focus and the quality of the beer. Runners-up in the competition include the Cricketers Arms in St Helens, Merseyside; the Chequers in Little Gransden; and the Volunteer Arms (Staggs) in Musselburgh.
The Wonston Arms will be presented with an award for its achievement at an event open to the press on Thursday 28 February at 2pm.