Shropshire Star

Check out the rural Ironbridge pub that wants to give you an experience that will make you return

As pubs struggle in the current cost of living crisis, the Shropshire Star continues its new series, Love Your Local, which celebrates our local inns.

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The Woodbridge Inn, Coalport

Shropshire has a rich history of being home to pubs dating back centuries, each with a story to be told and a unique character.

The Woodbridge Inn, in the Ironbridge Gorge, dates back centuries and the management continue to run it as one of the top places to visit, to experience great food, great drink, and all round great vibes - something that landlord Oliver Parrish says is all in the ethos of running the establishment.

Oliver, 40, took over the Woodbridge Inn back in August 2019 and soon after he faced incredibly challenges, firstly with Ironbridge being flooded in February 2020 and then the Covid pandemic that followed the next month.

Landlord Oliver Parrish

But he hasn't allowed that to deter him from his mission to make the pub THE place to visit in Ironbridge and the surrounding area, and Oliver hopes to be able to achieve that now life is returning somewhat back to normal following the pandemic.

He said: "It was an interesting and challenging start to life at the pub.

"I started in August 2019 after moving here from the Inn at Shipley, and then February 2020 Ironbridge had the floods - it was all flooded and then once we overcame that, the following month we have the Covid lockdown.

"The last sort of two years have been something that none of us would have imagined we would be dealing with, because once we reopened we had so many different changes and adjustments to be made in terms of staffing, restrictions, numbers of people, but I suppose that we have come out of it stronger with more knowledge.

"By doing things that we have never done we learned a lot, but we just want to get out of that period now and get back to normality - back to life before Covid."

Oliver went into the pub industry at 30. Originally from Wolverhampton, he moved to London at the age of 21, working in the PR industry, but once he turned 30 he decided that he had 'enough of running the rat race', and instead decided to pour pints for a living.

Landlords and owners of pubs often say that you can only decide to work in a pub if you really want to - and it is not a job that you can do half-hearted, you have to really want to do it, especially to make a success of it.

The Woodbridge Inn, Coalport

Speaking about that and what it is like running a pub after moving from a career in PR, he said: "Running a pub is a lifestyle choice - it's not just a job.

"The hours aren't your normal nine-to-five, it's constant, all day, everyday, and you do it because you simply want to do it.

"It is a lifestyle and yes, it is hard work, there's so many different plates to spin at the same time from customer service, HR, marketing, business - so there is a lot to the role.

"But is is something that I always wanted to go into. It enables me to put my personality to the pub and the owners Brunning and Price are fantastic to work with.

"I have worked with them for five years, but they allow me to run the pub as my own business and so I operate it in that way by stamping my own authority and it makes you feel very proud about the work you do and what you can achieve."

As pubs and the hospitality industry as a whole face a challenging period, inns that serve food are finding this is one of the best ways to keep business going, and Oliver is the same, but he said it is not just about providing a drink and some food.

It's about making customers enjoy their experience from the moment they first set foot into the establishment until they leave, and providing them with such an elegant, cosy environment, it will make them want to come back.

Customers Laura Martin, from Stafford, and Andrew Mills, from Glasgow

Speaking about the restaurant aspect and interior design, he added: "At the moment the priority is making sure it is a welcoming place - ensuring that anyone that comes in feels that it is a nice place to treat yourself, by little additions such as fresh flowers, keeping everything spotless, having great lighting and making it an overall great atmosphere and a place to relax and have take pleasure in going out to visit here.

"Plus with the winter months ahead, we have four open fires, so having these keeping it warm gives it a nice cosy feel that everyone enjoys.

"We have to make sure that we are offering people value for their money.

"We want people to spend their money, and so in return we have to ensure what we are providing is a top class product and service.

"At the moment everything in life is expensive, and we're in that same boat - everything we buy is expensive so we have to strive to provide value for every penny the customer spends. Putting on a whole package.

"I have tried to keep things local to the pub in terms of food ingredients, wines and drinks - so that it also helps the local economy flow and so all around it helps us all.

"This is an important aspect - making sure that we help local businesses around us, and together we grow together.

"Food is a big part of what we do, and we do lunch and dinner 365 days a year. There is a fantastic team with three other managers, one supervisor, great staff members, a fantastic head chef and kitchen team."

Pubs are a beacon in the community - a place to visit and sometimes forget about the stresses in life, or just socialise and enjoy conversation, and Oliver agreed, saying that 'Brits love a pub, and so it is important we keep going and making sure this is a great pub'.

He said: "We try to do some things that are different here too like wine-tasting evenings, or we have a brewer from a local brewery come for the evening where customers can sample their beer. It's all about putting on a great time for all, and so by doing events like this, we are able to offer different kind of experiences.

Customers Ann and Mick Hughes from Shifnal, with daughter Lauren

"Ironbridge has a fantastic community feel, and the pubs are the hub of the community here and always have been.

"It was upsetting to see some casualties along the way following the pandemic, but we are one of the lucky ones to be able to come out and be the beacon for the community.

"It has taken a lot of hard work to get to where it is today, dedicating a lot of long, hard hours and now it is all about continuing what we do."

The Woodbridge Inn is said to have been around since 1785, where it was apparently built at the same time as the bridge.

Oliver said that the regulars often provide him with the knowledge on the history of the pub.

"The regulars tell me stories about the history, and from what I've been told this has always been an inn of some sort since it was built and there are some older parts of the building from then, but we have done a refurbishment to modernise too."