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Bureaucracy is destroying the British boozer
6:00am Saturday 21st September 2013 in Eating Out
OHN Harmon spends a lot of time fighting bureaucracy and red tape when all he wants to do is pull pints.
The 65-year-old landlord of the Golden Lion, Rochford, took over the reins four years ago.
It is the smallest pub in the area, but is making a titanic stand against the decline of the British boozer.
You’d think that kind of plucky resilience would get the backing of the local authorities.
Not so, says Mr Harmon, who admits to run-ins with planning officers, big name breweries and health and safety pedants.
“I always loved working behind a bar, but never wanted to own one,” admits Mr Harmon.
“Now I know why.
“I have been fighting rates and bureaucracy since I got here.”
It has not been a lucrative time for pub owners, with cheap supermarket drink and gastro pubs diluting our idea of a swift pint down the local.
But the Golden Lion is still standing up for quality beer, local brewers and good old-fashioned customer service.
John has worked behind bars since he was 18 years old.
Born in Rochford and growing up in Southchurch, he often frequented the Cricketers Inn, Westcliff, as a regular.
“I realised if you worked behind the bar you were not only making money, but saving it, because you weren’t buying drinks.
“It was a good way to earn a wage and still have a social life.”
But if it hadn’t been for some bad weather, he may never have come to own his own pub.
It was during a weekend indulging his passion for sailing on his 45ft cruiser that he ran into the former owners of the Golden Lion.
Heavy winds put paid to the boating and he took shelter in a pub and was invited on to the cricket team. He became a regular on the team and it was here that he met the couple who would later become the pub’s landlords.
He started working for them and was first in line when they wanted to move on.
“They decided they wanted to sell up and my partner at the time was keen,” he explains.
“We made an offer and after a year of aggravation, we managed to buy it in November 2009.
“By 2010, my partner left me and the pub and I have been trying to make it work ever since.”
The 16th century pub, in North Street, is Grade II-listed. John has embraced Camra and has won the Camra Pub of the Year in South East Essex.
He regularly hosts beer festivals, with his next due between October 2 and October 6.
He has invested in the look of the place recently, decking out the garden area and restoring an antique water pump to turn it into a working water feature.
But his bugbear comes in the form of red tape that thwarts his good intentions.
He recounts how his pub had no fire escape at all, despite being fire safety approved. John built a fire escape, with a new set of stairs, in case of emergencies. On spotting this new structure, the planning officers told him he would require planning permission, which cost him £700.
The fire officers threatened to shut him down, because the door locked from the outside.
“I told them it had been approved five years earlier without any fire escape at all,” he says.
“It’s the kind of thing we are dealing with all the time.”
But despite the slings and arrows, he remains loyal to his ideals, those of good customer service and good drinks.
“I say to my girls who work here, serving beer is only part of your job,” he adds. “Mostly you are an entertainer and the reason people come back.
The pub offers a free pick-up service, which will collect you from a certain point and drop you in Rochford. It then collects you and runs you home.
The Golden Lion has seven hand pumps, drinks made within walking distance of the bar stools and a modest selection of food behind the bar.
“Pubs like this won’t be here in the future. I am certain of that,” he laments.
For more information visit www.goldenlionrochford. co.uk
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