Since 2019, Artsreach has been a proud partner in the INN CROWD, a national project devised by Applause Rural Touring, Creative Arts East and National Centre for Writing, with support from Pub is the Hub and Arts Council England.
The project has enabled partners to present exciting and inspiring spoken-word, poetry and storytelling performances in rural pubs across England. INN Crowd has supported landlords to attract new customers, widen the experience for their regular punters, and reinforce the pub as a central, vibrant part of community life. The project has also enabled some of the UK’s best and emerging spoken-word artists to create, develop and tour their work to new areas.
Through the project, Artsreach has supported 11 artists to deliver 23 INN Crowd events in rural pubs and venues including The Gaggle of Geese Buckland Newton, The Royal Oak at Drimpton, The Blackmore Vale Inn Marnhull, The Red Lion In Sturminster Marshall, The Oak at Dewlish, The Exchange Bar in Sturminster Newton, and Swanage Mowlem Taproom.
Spotlight on The Gaggle of Geese, Buckland Newton
“When money is a bit tight, theatre and performance and something that is affordable is a nice thing for a pub to be able to offer. People are more willing to take a chance on it as INN CROWD have made it more affordable for everyone.”
Simon and Sarah Colquhoun, publicans of The Gaggle of Geese, Buckland Newton, have hosted around seven shows a year through Artsreach and the INN Crowd.
The Gaggle of Geese, which the Colquhouns took on in 2017, is the only pub in the village of Buckland Newton, and is a really important part of village life. With no passing trade, Sarah and Simon believe it is key to offer something different from all the other country pubs.
With its five acres of gardens playing host to a campsite, shepherd’s huts, a double decker play bus, goats and crazy golf, as well as to a range of entertainment, including INN CROWD shows, offer something different is what it certainly does.
Having previously had a pub in Brighton, where the city’s vibrant arts scene, including performance and music, were an integral part of pub life, was one of the reasons the Colquhouns were keen to get involved with Artsreach and INN CROWD.
The pub’s campsite and shepherd’s huts can also see 80 to 90 people staying the night most weekends, so it is key that they offer things to entertain guests and pub-goers.
Simon says: “It is a tough times for pubs and I think pubs need to be creative and think of new ways of attracting customers and not just rely on beer and food sales. Think of ways of bringing in new customers and use food and drink sales as an add on to something else.”
He adds: “With our latest show we offered the opportunity to book a pre-show meal and put the show on a Sunday evening so people will come out for dinner. The timing of the show is part of that thinking around how to maximise the experience for the customer and also our sales.”
Shows for all seasons
During the winter the pub hosts INN CROWD performances inside, with shows generally held on a Sunday night. Simon says: “This time works well as it is a dead spot and is great to fill that time with something to draw people in. We had around 55 people come to our latest show and 35 booked to eat. If people come and have a nice meal too then they will probably come again.”
From April to September the pub’s garden becomes a performance space for all kinds of entertainment, including live performance, with a couple of teepees put up in this space for performers to use and to add to the atmosphere.
Simon says that because The Gaggle is ten miles from the nearest town the collaborative marketing of shows by INN CROWD, Artsreach and the performer means more people hear about the pub and have a reason to visit.
He says: “For our most recent show we sold out a couple of weeks in advance and had to turn about 20 to 30 people away. The nice thing about the shows is that we attract people we wouldn’t normally have visiting the pub. If they have a good time when they come to a show they are likely to visit again later in the year.”
Low risk investment for pubs and attendees
Simon feels the subsidised show fee for publicans by INN CROWD, through its funding by Arts Council England, makes both booking or attending a show less financial risk.
He adds: “When money is a bit tight, theatre and performance and something that is affordable is a nice thing for a pub to be able to offer. People are more willing to take a chance on it as INN CROWD have made it more affordable for everyone.”
Another big attraction of the INN CROWD shows for the Colquhouns is the minimal needs of its performers.
Simon says: “The performers are often solo artists so you don’t need a huge stage or kit and the performance can just feel part of the space.”
The Colquhouns use a variety of marketing methods to help attract people to attend the shows. As they feature a few INN CROWD show each year, they like to market the shows as a programme, not as a one off.
One of the key things used to market the shows is the pub’s social media, including Facebook. “We often boost the posts and do some targeted marketing within 20-miles of here,” says Simon.
The INN CROWD shows are also featured on both the websites of the pub and Artsreach. “The Artsreach website has lots of traffic that wouldn’t normally look at ours, which is great. Artsreach also has a following for its work, which is a benefit to us and brings in different customers to what we would normally have,” says Simon.
The publicans also send information on the shows to local magazines, including the village magazine.
Make your pub an entertainment venue
Another big benefit to putting on INN CROWD shows at The Gaggle of Geese is that Simon says it helps create an invaluable view of the pub as not just being a pub but a venue.
Simon says: “You just become known for it and the pub becomes a venue rather than just a pub and people think of it as somewhere to see a performance or live music, rather than just a place to pop in for a pint.”
He adds: “Off the success of the shows, and our partnership with INN CROWD and Artsreach, we have a successful annual music festival and are working on the idea of a weekend Fringe festival, building on the fact that we are now known as a venue for theatre and shows.”