Karl taking the bull by the horns with renovation of historic pub

The transformation of a dilapidated north Northumberland pub into a restaurant with rooms is taking shape.

Saturday, 4th June 2016, 10:30 am
Refurbishment of the Black Bull in Lowick.

The Black Bull in Lowick was bought earlier this year by local investor Karl Crane after a community bid to buy the pub failed to raise sufficient funds.

The renovation project started three months ago and has seen much of the interior stripped back and reconfigured.

About 80 per cent of the building has been stripped back to its skeleton, including the section that will be the new bar and dining area.

Most recently, new windows have been installed, the car park has been dug up to put in new drains and work to repaint the exterior of the building will begin soon.

All being well, it will open by the end of the year.

“We made a start on the refurbishment at the beginning of February and spent the first six weeks stripping the place back,” said Karl.

“We applied to reconfigure the building in a number of areas and these changes have been accepted.

Black Bull owner Karl Crane.

“Previously, there were two bars and a number of areas to sit for food, plus a disused function room and three-and-a-bit letting rooms.

“We’re still going to have a bar, plus restaurant and tea room, but we’re also putting in 10 letting rooms which we think will be a big boost to tourism.”

Although there is an emphasis on ‘restaurant with rooms’, Karl still wants drinkers to treat the pub as their local.

“The bar has been downsized, the equipment replaced and the cellar relocated, but it will still be an important part of the pub,” he said.

About 80 per cent of the building has been stripped back to its skeleton, including the section that will be the new bar and dining area.

“We will be selling a good selection of beers and real ales and clearly will support all the things the locals like.

“We’re trying to appeal to a number of elements across the market.”

The company he set up to buy the pub, Lekt Property, has a community ethos at heart.

Karl said: “The whole concept has been about getting the whole community involved and supporting rural development so as many local people as possible benefit from the pub.”

Black Bull owner Karl Crane.

Local joiners, plumbers and painters are among the traders involved so far.

“When it comes to the supply and production of food, we will also do our utmost to keep it as local as we can, both for the environmental impact and, more importantly, to support the local community,” saidKarl.

He is pleased with progress so far, though he admits there has been the odd hiccup along the way.

“There have been one or two unforseen circumstances but I suppose that’s to be expected when renovating such an old building,” he admits.

It is thought there has been a public house on the site since at least the mid-18th century.

Last week, Bishop of Newcastle, Rt Rev Christine Hardman, accompanied by Vicar of Lowick, Rev Victor Dickinson, popped in to learn more about the development plans and to see how work is progressing.

She later tweeted: “Thanks @blackbulllowick for fascinating visit. Great to see historic pub being restored and saved for the community.”

Karl said: “The Black Bull team were delighted to have had the opportunity to meet the Bishop and really appreciate the support and encouragement.”

After retiring from a career in retail to take early retirement, Karl quickly became part of Lowick Community Ventures and its bid to buy the pub.

It was only when it became clear that it was not going to be able to come up with the funding required that his company took over.

“It’s not just Lowick that’s had these sorts of problems,” he said.

“There are lots of other rual communities in Northumberland and further afield suffering from pubs and other businesses closing down.

“It’s unfortunate because we’ve all seen a massive increase in the tourism industry due to the exposure of the region.

“So we very much feel that the potential is there for the development of the region if investment can be found.

“That’s a key reason why we set up our company, raised the capital and have embarked on this project.”