Shropshire Star

The community-run pub that's now managed by a man who once worked at Buckingham Palace

As pubs continue to battle the cost of living crisis, the Shropshire Star continues its Love Your Local series which celebrates our local inns.

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Gareth Penny runs The Mill at Leighton which was taken over by the community after it closed under previous owners

Pubs are often an asset to a community figuratively speaking, but The Mill at Leighton is literally that.

The pub was taken over by members of the community in Leighton after it had closed down, and it has now literally become a community asset after regulars took on the lease as a local community venture.

The Mill at Leighton is a family friendly village pub situated between Ironbridge and Shrewsbury, on the B4380.

Gareth Penny, 40, from Wellington, is the general manager and runs it on a day-to-day basis.

Gareth has always worked in hospitality including working with the Royal family, where he used to run the staff facilities at Buckingham Palace.

Speaking about what that experience was like, Gareth says: "It was an unbelievable experience working for the Royal family, and I was there during the Golden Jubilee too.

"I used to run the staff facilities in London, and when the family would move to Sandringham or Balmoral Castle, I would set up the facilities too.

"It was unbelievable working there, seeing the Golden Jubilee concerts and got to fly with the Queen too.

"It was an unreal world to be involved in."

Members of the community took on The Mill at Leighton in 2021

Now over two decades later, Gareth is running The Mill at Leighton, where he also previously worked eight years ago. But after leaving he was contacted by members of the community in 2020 and, after putting a plan together, himself and other villagers took it over.

After officially getting the keys in March 2021 the group spent two months refurbishing it before opening in the May of that year.

Sharing on what it has been like since reopening the establishment, Gareth adds: "I have worked in hospitality more or less all my life, and this has been extremely hard work.

"We essentially set up a business in the pandemic which was a difficult period but with the support from the locals and by having a good team around us, we are making headway.

"There is a lot of history with this pub too, it dates back to the Domesday period, there is a mill inside the building and there it was also a blass furnace as well.

"So when we took over, we wanted to pay homage to the history and it was previously known as The Kynnersley Arms but we decided to call it The Mill at Leighton.

Old mill workings can be found at the pub
The pub can be found between Shrewsbury and Ironbridge

"It is a classic country pub that serves good quality good, and we take pride in serving real ales. We serve five real ales which are key to our business.

"In everything that we do, we strive to use local supplies and work closely with Tanners, we buy through local suppliers which helps the supply chain all round the area.

"It is running really well and there has been incredible support from the local but also from the wider area.

"We often get bookings from all over Shropshire, from Bridgnorth, Shrewsbury, Much Wenlock - it is great to receive this kind of support."

The Grade II listed building has an extensive history which dates back almost 1,000 years, but the pub closed in 2020. However, thanks to members of the community who didn't want it to shut forever, it has really become a community asset which they own as a limited company.

Despite doing well since reopening, The Mill's first two years under community management have coincided with the back end of the pandemic and a cost of living crisis that is crippling businesses in the hospitality sector.

Customers Richard Mills, Pete Mills and Phil Rushton enjoy a drink in The Mill

Gareth says: "Our energy costs are phenomenal, we are in a contract that is coming up for renewal soon, but we are getting along right now.

"I have friends in the industry with bills double the amount of ours, and so we are dealing with the costs right now."

The pub serves great tasting food, including favourites such as seabass, steaks, and they recently hosted a British chip shop evening with a chip shop menu which coincided with a quiz night.

These themed quiz nights take place once a month, and they also show the rugby live in the pub.

"The entertainment nights do really well and we regularly sell out.

"And we are dog friendly in the bar, which works well with a lot of people as we have a lot of walkers that like to enter, and we make them feel more than welcome.

"We are family friendly too and so we welcome everyone."

Gareth works at the pub with his wife Helen Penny, and said without all the amazing staff, the business would not be able to operate to the standards that they want without them.