South Yorkshire pub operators Simon Woodcock and Richard Hepplestone are taking the lease on their sixth pub as they look to build an estate of ten sites in the region. The Black Bull in Ecclesfield is the duo’s second venture with Star Pubs. Closed for more than a year, it will reopen at the end of July, creating ten new jobs following a £198,000 investment by Star.

The refurbishment will transform The Black Bull into a family-friendly premium local with a pretty garden, dedicated games room and varied entertainment programme.

The overhaul will completely renovate the outside of the distinctive pub and develop a 40-seater sheltered courtyard garden with a big screen for watching sports. The internal revamp will upgrade The Black Bull with a stylish look that is sympathetic to the traditional old stone pub but incorporates contemporary design touches. To cater for the whole community, the pub will have three distinct zones – a comfortable carpeted lounge, a spacious bar and one of the best games areas in the area, which will be kitted out with a pool table, darts and screens showing Sky Racing, Racing TV and Sky and TNT Sports.

Woodcock and Hepplestone’s business model is focused on community locals specialising in sports and entertainment and The Black Bull will follow suit. Activities will range from sports screenings and darts and pool teams to live music, DJs, quizzes and bingo. As with their other venues, trade is expected to be predominantly wet but a menu of good quality ready-made pub favourites, such as pizzas, burgers and pies, will generate 10% of sales.

Explains Hepplestone: “We prefer the community to the town centre market. Overheads like business rates are lower; there’s less competition from managed chains with deep pockets, and if you invest time in getting to know your customers you can build up a loyal following of regulars.

“Leasing pubs is essential to our expansion; the expense of buying pubs is too great to build up a volume of sites. The Black Bull has loads of potential but we couldn’t have considered it without Star’s financial backing, which will refurbish the pub to the high standard customers now expect at their local. We’ve worked collaboratively but their project team is doing the heavy lifting required in terms of undertaking the works, enabling us to continue to focus on operating our other pubs. We are already considering a further project with them.”

Adds Lorna Willoughby, investment manager for Star Pubs in Yorkshire: “Simon and Richard have a real expertise in community locals in South Yorkshire. They’re passionate about developing great pubs and are ideal operators for The Black Bull. The Ecclesfield pub scene struggled post the pandemic but is now seeing a resurgence, and we’re pleased to be able to play our part in that.”

Star’s investment at The Black Bull is part of its £39m programme to upgrade its pubs in 2024.