"Education, education, education" was how Tony Blair outlined his priorities when taking office more than 20 years ago.

Since then the political landscape has changed dramatically and the pub trade, too, has had to go back to school.

Most pubs have either closed or evolved since 1997, with a major change being how welcoming pubs have become to families. One way of doing this is by forging links with local schools.

It can be good business sense but working with schools can also provide community cohesion, which is even more important against a backdrop of closing community shops, post offices and other local services. The Buck Inn in the North Yorkshire village of Thornton Watlass is a perfect example of how a pub has connected with its local school to the benefit of both the business and the community.

 

The guv'nor

Vicki and Tony Jowett took over the only pub in the village four years ago. The freehouse is family-friendly, which is helped by Vicki's role as a school governor.

She says: "The village has been so supportive of us and you have to give something back. Though it's funny when I'm in the playground, someone calls me Mrs Jowett and one of the kids says: 'That's not Mrs Jowett, that's Vicky who runs the pub.'"

The pub has been able to support the school by sponsoring events and lending its barbecue. Vicky also provided hospitality training to Key Stage 2 pupils ahead of a community lunch in the village. Suffice to say it was a huge fundraising success.

"They really got into it," she says, "and you could see some talent in there as well."

The pub was also the scene of celebrations when the village's junior cricket team recorded its first ever victory.

 

 

 

Fun for all the family

All this means the village's children are comfortable in the pub environment and are able to mix socially with the adults, which will go a long way to ensuring the pub remains an important asset.

Vicki adds: "We are a very small village with a school and a pub and no shops, so we are the heart of the community."

 

 

Adrian Emmett (above) recently picked up the Pub of the Year Award from his landlord, Ei. He has picked up plenty of prizes after transforming The Lion in Treorchy, south Wales, from a boarded-up boozer into a top-of-the-class performer, but he has also handed out quite a few.

The Lion Attendance Challenge has simultaneously encouraged more children to go to school more regularly and brought thousands of new faces into his pub.

He works with all of the schools in the area — 39 primary schools and five comprehensives — on the project. If pupils achieve 98 per cent attendance in a school term they are presented with a much-coveted golden ticket, which entitles them and as many guests as they want to bring to a meal at The Lion with a 20 per cent discount.

 

 

Adrian says: "We can get 20 to 30 people coming in — the more the merrier. I always look at it as 80 per cent I didn't otherwise have rather than worrying about the 20 per cent. You can't bank a percentage."

The primary school children also receive a goody bag when they arrive at the pub, while Adrian provides Kindles to the best attenders and most improved attenders at the comprehensive schools.

Adrian adds: "To date we have awarded 182 Kindles and attended more than 90 school assemblies, many with our mascot, Super Attender, who has his very own song and dance."

In the five years the project has been running, more than 4,000 golden tickets have been awarded. With an average offour people coming to the pub on each occasion, that makes an incredible 16,000 extra people through the doors who may otherwise have never set foot inside The Lion.

 

Pillar of the community

It has been a huge success for both the pub and the schools, with attendances improving across the board. Adrian says it has also changed the way people view his pub and his profession.

"The landlord used to be up there with the headmaster and the local vicar and this has helped restore the reputation of the profession," he says.

"It is about breaking barriers and one of the biggest barriers with my business is that it has the name 'pub' next to it, which had negative connotations for some people, but we have completely changed that now.

"At first people were sceptical about it and were asking 'why do you want to promote alcohol to kids?' but we have shown that it isn't about that and that you can bring your family to a pub like this on a Friday night in the same way that you might go to a restaurant or a Toby Carvery."

And his work with local schools does not stop with the golden tickets. As a Business Wales mentor and chairman of the Treorchy Chamber of Commerce he is keen to develop entrepreneurial talent. He has done this with his own staff and is now working with Treorchy Comprehensive to create a hospitality course and qualification that could be run at the pub. This follows on from the workshops at the pub he already provides to sixth-formers as part of their studies.

 

 

Bar-room classroom

Simon Mills at The Harvester in Long Itchington, Warwickshire, has already seen the freehouse that has been in his family for the best part of 25 years become a classroom of sorts.

He had a daughter at the local primary school, became a governor and, about five years ago, got involved in teaching children the basics of being in a kitchen. The four- to five-week course takes place in the pub's kitchen. He says: "We cover the basics like how to stock a fridge and how to chop an onion. One of the things they do is cook a stew and they learn all of the elements to that along the way.

"At the start sometimes when you show them how to chop an onion it is like we are speaking alien to them, but they are good listeners and you can see the look of pride when they learn something."

And it does not stop at the kitchen — the pub also uses its contacts to secure deals from its suppliers when it comes to events at the school. Adrian adds: "This is a little village and you can't continually take from it.

You don't have to give much but you have to give something back. We don't do it to bring new customers to the pub, but it doesn't hurt in that regard either."

Of course, if you get the pupils in, the parents and teachers shouldn't be too far behind.

 

Lesson plans

There are loads of ways that you can forge links with your local schools. Here are three more that get gold stars:

• Cooking school dinners at the pub — up to 100 a day (Kings Arms, Shouldham)

• Growing vegetables with pupils (The Fountaine, Linton, York)

• Art projects with pictures going on pub walls (Eagle + Child, Ramsbottom)