The desire to return to her community was what inspired Emma Shepherd MBII to take over the Blue Ball Inn in Worrall. Having lived in the village since her daughter was born 23 years ago, Emma, along with her husband Carl (who was also born in Worrall), decided it was time to bring their focus and lives back to village life.
“I got made redundant in April 2019 and this pub was looking for a new landlord/landlady. I’d always fancied doing it!
“I’d worked in pubs and hotels when I was much younger and when I was a student, and I just really liked the idea of being back in the heart of the community. My previous job had taken me all over the country and I was rarely at home,” explains Emma, who sealed the deal to take over the Blue Ball just two months later on June 11, 2019.
Working jointly with Admiral Taverns, the pub was fully refurbished and turned into a venue designed to give a warm welcome to every sort of person. “We’ve invested a lot to make it the kind of community pub that serves everybody,” says Emma.
Making the Blue Ball a welcoming place for all has been the driving force behind a lot of the decisions.
For instance, the primarily wet-led business operates at an 80/20 wet/dry split and purposely avoids serving a lot of food, as they don’t believe it is what their customers are looking for.
“We thought that there were enough gastropubs and restaurants in the local area, so we made a conscious decision not to offer food,” says Emma, adding: “We do reserve spaces for special occasions, but we try to avoid bookings, so that when the locals come in, they’ve always got their spot.
Being an inclusive space for everyone, and putting people first is what keeps customers coming back to the Blue Ball. This includes working together with, rather than competing against other local pubs to ensure everyone is supported and thriving.
“There are a few pubs locally around the four villages and we have a chat group. We share best practice and we ask each other for help. We’re quite aware that working together is better than working against each other.”
At the Blue Ball, community comes first and Emma describes how she works alongside local businesses for their mutual benefit. “Because we’re a small village, we have a lovely post office, a hairdresser and we have two pubs. That’s it. The nearest supermarket is in the next village, but it’s quite a walk away.”
To help make fresh produce more accessible to villagers, Emma lets a local supplier set up a fresh fruit and vegetable stand in the pub car park on some mornings. “He just rocks up at 7am, while we’re sleeping, and the villagers come and get their good quality, fresh food and veg.”
To diversify from the usual pub offering, the Blue Ball has started doing breakfast mornings, which Emma says have been a huge hit. “We’re only a little pub but we did 100 sausages and five dozen eggs last Saturday.”
By hosting the fresh produce stalls and breakfast mornings at her pub, Emma consistently drives traffic to her venue during quiet times. The Blue Ball’s breakfast mornings are in collaboration with a local business, the Little Sausage Shop, where they have created the perfect Blue Ball sausage especially for the pub. “We wanted something that was a little bit coarser in texture and that could be cooked quickly.
“People who didn’t know about the Little Sausage Shop now know about it, and he helps promote our business as well, by telling everybody about us on a Saturday morning – it’s a mutual benefit,” says Emma.
Beyond working with local businesses, Emma and the Blue Ball do what they can to support community efforts.
“I just feel it’s important as a village pub that we are at the heart of the community and we do as much as we can to support it.”
Customers aren’t the only ones who are looking to save money, with the rising cost of utilities. Licensees are under ever increasing pressure to reduce costs at every opportunity.
For Emma, this meant introducing ‘atmospheric’ lighting in the evenings by switching things off.
To find out how best to reduce the energy expenditure of the pub, Emma approached a local electrician for advice. “We wanted to know what we could do better. His advice was to reduce the amount of time anything with a motor is on – devices that heat up when they’re on.
“Keeping those off will ultimately save you money. It might not be a lot for one piece of equipment, but if you do it with a few bits of equipment, then it all adds up.”
While her cellar technician advised against turning the cellar cooler off, to avoid harming the beer quality, they did suggest that the ice banks could get switched off overnight, because the ice would remain frozen until the morning.
“We even have our bottle fridges on timers, so they switch off overnight.
We also switch off our counter fridges, which store our pork pies and sausage rolls for sale. We wrap up the food and put it in the kitchen fridge overnight.”
Emma reveals that so far, these simple but effective measures have saved the Blue Ball £300 on their electricity bill in the first month.
When it comes to marketing their pub, the Blue Ball Inn relies on Facebook and word of-mouth for promotion, opting not to use a website. Asking Emma about this decision, she said that she wanted to be able to engage her customers in a two-way conversation, which wouldn’t be possible through a traditional website.
By sticking to social media as the primary way of communicating with their customers, the Blue Ball can maintain the community feel that the pub is well loved for.
“I think because we’re a community pub and we’re all about engagement, people can engage better on social media, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram,” says Emma. “If they’re looking at things on Facebook or Instagram, it’s an opportunity for people to ask questions or become engaged.”
The Blue Ball Inn is a fantastic example of what it means to truly be at the heart of a community, putting people above all else and working together with the industry to make a positive difference.
The Blue Ball Inn, Worrall