Town pub gains double award and heads in to county and national championship

Bury’s Oakes Barn free house has picked up not one, but two, prestigious and coveted  awards from the West Suffolk & Borders branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).                                 

Following voting amongst CAMRA’s’ thousand strong branch membership earlier in the year, the St Andrew’s Street local in Bury St Edmunds, which prides itself on a community focus, with real ale, cider and home cooked meals, came out on top winning both the West Suffolk ‘Town Pub of the Year’ award and the overall ‘West Suffolk Pub of the Year’ accolade for 2020/21. A close runner up, The Fox, Pakenham, took both the Cider Pub and ‘Rural Pub of the Year’ awards. Oakes Barn will now go forward to the County, Regional and National championship award stages of the competition organised annually by the CAMRA, whilst having a full twelve months to celebrate its success locally. The awards have, for the first time, are supported by local builder merchants and ironmongers, D J Evans.

Martin Bate, CAMRA Branch Vice Chair (second from left) raises his glass to Heather Warren (second from right) with her team, after receiving the coveted ‘Pub of the Year’ award

A delighted Heather Warren, owner of Oakes Barn, said “2020 has been a real struggle. We’ve endured months of closure with two crippling lock downs but our locals and our CAMRA branch, in making these awards, realise we have come out the other side a lot stronger. With our seven day a week opening and expanded range of food, which now includes breakfast and all-day meals, we can continue to trade under the Tier 2 restrictions whilst still retaining an emphasis on serving the local community, 

Nick McIlwraith, of Pakenham, Fox is equally delighted with his awards. “Things are very different for a rural pub” he said. “it is not practical for us to provide every customer with a meal while our potential trade is so limited by the Tier 2 restrictions and we have therefore yet to re-open. I look forward to welcoming my regulars back again as soon as it is reasonably practicable.  Meanwhile I’m grateful to CAMRA and our locals, who have supported us since we rebuilt and opened the pub from its derelict state four years ago 

Nick McIlwraith, landlord at The Fox, Pakenham proudly showing his ‘Rural Pub of the Year’ certificate with Martin Bate (right).

The plight of rural pubs strikes a chord with CAMRA’s campaigning. Many such pubs are at risk and were struggling before the pandemic. Chris Bailey, Branch chair commented  “as a lobbying organisation we are doing everything in our power to support the licensed trade thorough these difficult times. Not least we applaud everyone to support their local pub in any way they can. In many villages and market towns this really is now a ‘use it or lose it’ situation”. 

The final word came from Heather Warren. “We’re already looking forward to the next stage of the competition. Hopefully we can progress through the rounds, waving the flag for West Suffolk, and bring home the National award in 2021, along with a return to normality!”