Owners of Ashwell’s Three Tuns pub ‘extremely disappointed’ by landlady’s sudden departure

PUBLISHED: 09:14 11 October 2017 | UPDATED: 10:10 13 October 2017

Sally Birrell and staff members at The Three Tuns in Ashwell. Picture: Greene King

Sally Birrell and staff members at The Three Tuns in Ashwell. Picture: Greene King

Archant

The owners of Ashwell’s Three Tuns pub and hotel have said they weren’t aware of the erstwhile landlady’s intentions before she suddenly closed it.

The Three Tuns in Ashwell. Picture: Alan MillardThe Three Tuns in Ashwell. Picture: Alan Millard

Caterer Sally Birrell, who took over the historic High Street pub in March, abruptly announced on September 29 that it was closing – with guests who had just checked in told they had to leave.

The Greene King brewery has expressed dismay, while vowing to find a new tenant to reopen the pub. According to a notice at the Tuns, it will reopen next week.

A Greene King spokesman said: “We were saddened to hear of the sudden closure of The Three Tuns in Ashwell.

“We were not aware of our tenant’s intentions until after the pub had closed. We have provided a lot of support to the pub this year, particularly following the fire in May, and we are extremely disappointed by what has happened.

The sign indicating that Sally Birrell's stewardship of The Three Tuns in Ashwell had ended.The sign indicating that Sally Birrell's stewardship of The Three Tuns in Ashwell had ended.

“We will now look to find a new partner to work with us to ensure that The Three Tuns remains a strong part of the Ashwell community and has a successful future.”

The Three Tuns is tenanted, meaning Greene King owns it while a separate firm rents and operates it.

Ms Birrell, 59, owns an outdoor food service firm called Capers Catering, based in Eyeworth – and took over at the Tuns, her first pub, in March.

The Grade II-listed hotel survived a fire two months later, attributed to an electrical fault in a first-floor office, and remained open.

The day the Tuns closed has been described in detail by Keith and Virginia Grundy, who are originally from Royston and Litlington respectively, but now live in Sprowston near Norwich.

They drove down from Norfolk before checking in the afternoon on September 29 – intending to enjoy their anniversary meal with friends in the restaurant the next day.

They were still bringing their luggage into the room when “a woman with a clipboard” appeared in the doorway and told them the “hotel was closing in 15 minutes and we had to leave”.

Mrs Grundy said: “I couldn’t grasp this and got a bit stressed. I asked why nobody rang us before we had left home and the woman just said they didn’t know until 15 minutes ago.

“When I asked why they were closing, it seemed this was down to poor trading – so we now assume that they were closing anyway as this was the last banking day of the month.

“We were completely confused and upset. Half our luggage was in the room and had to come out again. We were not even offered a drink of any sort and we had just travelled over 90 miles.”

They were offered the chance to stay the night and leave the next day, but the Grundys turned this down – noting that “the catering vans were already arriving to assumedly clear the kitchen”.

Mrs Grundy concluded: “We bought ourselves a drink eventually and I sat in the bar with mine while people were taking pictures off the wall.

“A customer was ranting because they hadn’t had their full meal and the kitchen and closed. My husband went out to phone our friends to tell them the weekend was cancelled and we were driving back to Norwich immediately. The atmosphere in the building was horrible.

“This was just a nightmare situation for us all round – an unbelievable situation and one we should like an explanation to so we can get closure.”

A sign posted in the window at the pub stated that “Sally Birrell Limited, T/A The Three Tuns, has ceased to trade with effect from 29 September 2017”, and invited creditors to contact a firm handling insolvency.

Ms Birrell said in a statement today that she was “deeply saddened to make the informed decision to close The Three Tuns under her tenancy”, citing blows including the fire and her hospitalisation with sepsis.

The statement, issued in the name of Sally Birrell Ltd, said: “The decision was not taken lightly but as an obligation as a director. The business ceased trading on the afternoon of Friday, September 29.

“BRI Ltd were instructed to act on behalf of Sally Birrell Ltd. The company was put into creditor’s voluntary liquidation and as such offers protection to employees and creditors.

“Following the opening of the pub under the tenancy of Sally Birrell Ltd the business suffered a series of unfortunate blows, including a serious fire and the hospitalisation of Sally – who suffered a sepsis infection.

“Running a brewery-owned property of a pub and restaurant operation is hard work and challenging at the best of times, but these serious setbacks during the first six months of trading have had a significant negative effect to the wellbeing of the business. Regrettably the responsible decision to cease trading was taken.

“The staff who were present at the meeting rallied round to assist voluntarily in the removal of assets of the company to a secure location for valuation and sale at the market price for the benefit of creditors and employees.

“No member of staff was employed with a zero-hour contract, and as such all staff were made redundant and provided with protection and will be claiming redundancy from the redundancy payment office. A number of employees have since been offered employment opportunities by Sally.

“The Three Tuns is a wonderful historic building and asset in the heart of Ashwell. Sally thanks the loyal customers that have supported the pub over recent months, Sally understand the pub will reopen next week under new management, and wishes the new tenants every success.”

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