Drinkers at The Red Lion distraught after pub company ends lease of its popular publicans, reports James Cracknell
More than 5,000 people have signed a petition against a pub company evicting the popular management team of an Enfield Highway boozer.
The Red Lion in Hertford Road has been run by Ray and Tracey Bell for 19 years and has built a reputation for its varied entertainment, live music, and support for local charities. But owners Star Pubs have issued a notice ending the couple’s lease when the current term runs out in September.
In a week where pubs have been allowed to reopen for the first time in four months, Ray told the Dispatch that the Heineken-owned pub management company was planning to turn The Red Lion into “just another Wetherspoons [type] pub” and that it would lose all the character that had made it special.
He said: “The first we heard about it was in January when they sent a Section 25 notice out of the blue.
“We have put a lot into it over the years. But they want to run it as a ‘managed house’ so it will basically be like just another Wetherspoons pub with the same menu and the same script as all their other pubs.
“It’s nothing we have done – we have got no debt and we are very successful in the area. What has changed is the landscape. Tenants like us are now allowed to request MRO [market rent only] so we don’t have to be tied into buying the beer the company wants us to.
“More and more pub companies have been trying to regain control over their pubs to stop it happening. We are a victim of circumstances, because we are a successful pub and our lease is up.”
Ray and Tracey also run three other pubs in Hertfordshire and Essex but The Red Lion was their first venue and is where they continue to live with their family. On Monday, when government restrictions were finally lifted and The Red Lion was allowed to open its large beer garden, more than 100 punters enjoyed a pint in the spring sunshine.
A petition was launched last month calling on Star Pubs to change its decision, saying the company “obviously doesn’t know what an asset they have with Ray and Tracey running this local community pub in the heart of the borough” and arguing that “a managed house with a corporate look and standard menu will not work”.
Regular live music acts at The Red Lion, prior to the pandemic, included The 60s Allstars, featuring Kinks drummer Mick Avory.
Ray said they had been “humbled” by the response to the petition and said: “People travel from across London to come here. Local councillors have written to them [Star Pubs] as well saying we are embedded in the community.
“But they have pretty much said it is a commercial decision and they need to take the pub back.”
A spokesperson from Star Pubs said: “Our plan is to retain The Red Lion as a great local pub that caters for the needs of the whole community with entertainment and viewing sport, for which it is renowned, at the heart of its offer.
“We recognise that The Red Lion is an important asset to Enfield, and we want to ensure it remains sustainable for the long term.”
Sign the petition in support of The Red Lion