AN unlikely but uplifting pub story has been unfolding in York for the past couple of years.
It’s a tale of twists and turns and of surprising survival, and it might just serve as an uplifting example for anyone who fears their own suburban local’s days are numbered.
If ever a pub needed investment, it was The Leeman off Leeman Road. This backstreet end-terrace boozer, on the corner of Livingstone Street and Stamford Street East, had served its neighbourhood faithfully for well over a century, after opening around 1886.
The Leeman in 1935 (above) and when it was up for sale in 2013 (below)
But latterly it had become unloved and unappealing. Letters were falling off its sign outside and it seemed a matter of time before it closed for good.
In late 2013 though, fate intervened. Enterprise Inns had sold the pub as part of a job lot to a property company. But that firm collapsed and the pub was put on the market again.
That’s where Tim Kinslow, a secondary school IT teacher, entered the story. He lives locally and decided to try to buy the building. Except, he didn’t think he was buying a pub.
He admits now that he thought it was already closed, dead, gone. The curtains were always shut, he says, and nobody ever seemed to go in – so he assumed it had ceased trading. He thought he was buying a building with residential potential and only when he went to view it did he realise that it was still a pub.
At that moment, his plans began to change. Having found himself the pub’s landlord, somewhat to his surprise, he decided to save the pub rather than signing its death warrant.
“I had thought I could buy it and develop it,” he says. “But by the time my offer was accepted I had been in a few times and had seen that there was still a business there.”
Tim set to work on a major refurbishment. Work has been stop-start and rarely quick, but after two years it is almost complete. A new sign outside is one of the last jobs left to do, and Tim can then crack on with trying to make the business a lasting success.
So what has changed? The pub has been renamed, for a start. It’s now The Leeman Rose, the new word for a new era denoting a welcoming friendliness, says Tim. An internal wall has come down to create a larger main room, incorporating the area that was once the snug.
One of the doors has been closed off and another entrance adjusted. An old storage room, which was historically the jug and bottle department, has been brought back into use.
A huge screen has been installed in the side room for showing live sport, the entire pub has been redecorated, and Steve Howard (who has formerly worked at The Dawnay Arms in Shipton-by-Beningbrough and The Wenlock Arms in Wheldrake) has been brought in as manager.
That’s not all though. At the back of the pub, the old toilets have been moved to make space for Caffé Leemo, a sister business that trades from 7.30am to 2pm on weekdays and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays, bringing in business from tradesmen, local builders and a few locals, before the pub has even opened.
All told, the work has totalled about £100,000 although Tim stresses that most of that is money that the pub has turned over, and which he has simply put back into the business.
He says he is keen on the "pub is the hub" movement, aiming to turn pubs into multi-purpose community assets, catering to people who may never have thought of themselves as pub-goers.
Tim says: “There are 3,000 people in the Leeman Road area and my plan is to utilise the building as much as possible.
“The Junction in Leeman Road has already closed and been demolished and as a local this is now one of the last bastions of the community, along with The Jubilee and the church, the school and a few corner shops.”
He says a games group meets in the pub once a week, there is a dominoes team and men’s and women’s darts teams, there’s bingo on Monday afternoons, there’s live music every few weeks, and a craft group from nearby St Barnabas Church have used the pub for get-togethers as well.
Most demand on the bar is for big-name beers such as John Smith’s and Carling, says Tim, but alongside those he is trying to introduce real ales from Timothy Taylor’s, Theakston’s and Black Sheep.
He hopes to be able to further vary the beer range down the line, but for now is focusing on mastering his newfound role as landlord, and giving this once-doomed local a future that few envisaged – least of all Tim.
- There's live music in the pub tonight (Saturday 5 March). Skin The Lizard cover 80s rock and pop.