The Essex street filled to the brim with pubs where a new LGBTQ-led bar with 'daytime cafe' will open

-Credit: (Image: Rightmove)
-Credit: (Image: Rightmove)

A popular Essex pub in the heart of Chelmsford is set for a huge makeover as it will be rebranded into an LGBTQ-led bar. The Star and Garter pub in Moulsham Street is set to become "Bar Plus" in June as new licensee Kirsty Hebden-Lambird takes over the premises.

58-year-old Kirsty along with support from wife Lilly, who are a transgender couple, will be transforming the pub into something new, with a focus on making it a welcoming place for members of the LGBTQ community, as well as being a place for "everyone".

Bar Plus is set to have a soft launch on June 15, where it will be open from Wednesdays to Sundays initially, with work taking place on Monday and Tuesday inside and outside the building. Kirsty, who has previously worked as a publican as well as a DJ and events manager, said it has been a "whirlwind" and only had the takeover confirmed on Sunday (May 26), having been searching for a pub to run herself since December.

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She said: "I've done some pub entertainment, I'm a DJ and do quizzes and karaoke. I was doing some work in the Star and Garter and the staff say it's closing down because the licensee has decided to give it up. I contacted the owners of the pub and no one else had come forward, and they were very pleased with the direction I wanted to take it in.

"It's all been a bit of a whirlwind, I only found out on Saturday that I had it officially. Most pubs you're a tenant and then its run by pub companies, but this is more privately owned leaseholder. I think they're pleased someone is taking it on that knows what they're doing and can make a success of it."

Kirsty has worked as a travelling DJ for several years, but said it has always felt like "moving home" all the time due to the amount of equipment needing to be transported. She said that since the Covid pandemic, there are fewer dedicated places for LGBT people to attend in Essex, and wanted to offer something for them in Chelmsford.

She continued: "Being transgender and after Covid, so many things in Essex like support clubs and groups supporting transgenders just disappeared. There was quite a few that went through a lot of mental health issues because they couldn't get to see anyone - that was also nationwide for everyone.

"I wanted somewhere that was a safe haven for people that are transgender and have gender dysphoria that can come and feel safe and secure where it's run by transgenders, and will be a predominantly LGBTQ bar.

"Some of the people that had these clubs are friends of mine, a few of them have said that prices kept going up. After Covid happened its made people more nervous for people to throwing any money into a venue or a club when its so difficult to build the numbers and break even.

Kirsty Hebden-Lambird (left) will be taken on The Star and Garter in Moulsham Street, Chelmsford, with support from her wife Lilly (right)
Kirsty Hebden-Lambird (left) will be taken on The Star and Garter in Moulsham Street, Chelmsford, with support from her wife Lilly (right) -Credit:Kirsty Hebden-Lambird

"A lot of the club owners just shied away from it, and you have a whole community out there screaming for somewhere to go. Unless you go into London, there are some nice places in London near Soho that are great for transgender people, but you have to get the train all the way in."

Kirsty felt it important to have a LGBTQ-led venue run by someone within the same community, to ensure it doesn't feel like a "token" aspect of the service. She also said that pubs on the whole face a difficult challenge in 2024 with spiralling running costs and maintaining customer levels.

She said: "I think pubs are really struggling themselves; I go into pubs all the time and its really difficult to grow any kind of customer loyalty anymore. I think again with Covid people have learned to drink at home, and have friends round. Pubs aren't being used as much, and the economy doesn't help either. You've got to offer something unique, otherwise what you're doing is you're just competing with all the other pubs.

"I'm going to have a coffee barista machine in there, and the pool table is going to go. The daytime is gonna be more of a cafe style, somewhere where women can come, and try to revolve it if I can. We've got some brick-built outhouses; the Star and Garter has a passageway through to the back, and it used to be an inn where horse-drawn carriages would come through.

"They used to be stables and it's not obvious now, but they're in poor repair so I want to do those up and offer a drop-in centre for anyone under the LGBTQ banner that needs someone to talk to. I can't offer anything professional, but I can be a listening ear; sometimes all you need is someone to listen to what you have to say.

"If someone has come to this area and talked to us, hopefully they can end up being a customer as well. So hopefully it would be good for business but also be a service. We're trying to be a pub that offers so much more to the LGBT community, especially trans."

Despite the venue being an LGBTQ focused space, Kirsty said it will still be a place for everyone to go, whether LGBTQ or not. She added: "What people have been saying to me is, 'am I not welcome', if I'm a straight woman or man. No - everybody is welcome. The best way to have a good atmosphere is to have a good, healthy mix of everyone. That's my opinion."