Historic pub hidden off M6 unveils new look with free fort play area

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The Bluebell Inn, Smallwood has undergone a transformation including a new fort play area -Credit:Pear Hospitality

Tucked away just a couple of miles off the M6, the quaint village of Smallwood nestled between Congleton and Sandbach, seems to belong to a bygone era.

In the heart of this idyllic location, a historic pub has recently revealed an impressive revamp, perfectly timed for the summer season. The refurbishment is set to be a hit with families, particularly because of the addition of a splendid new wooden fort play area, which customers can enjoy at no extra cost.

Dating back to the 16th century, The Bluebell Inn is a notable feature in the local area and it's only a short drive from Stoke-on-Trent. Pear Hospitality, a family-run company that also manages the esteemed Pecks restaurant, The Wheatsheaf pub in Sandbach, and the Lion and Swan in Congleton, has breathed new life into the establishment with this extensive renovation.

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This week saw the unveiling of the inn's fresh appearance, which includes a reconfigured interior and a charmingly updated beer garden, now featuring the children's play area, reports the MEN.

Jake Pear, the proprietor, expressed particular fondness for this project, as he and his family are residents of Smallwood.

He commented: "Whenever we're looking for new sites we look for a building that excites us, where we have ideas to improve it, make it flow better or make certain areas work better than they are - that's what really excites us as a company to move forward with it.

"The Bluebell is a little bit special though because we are a family business and the entire family lives in Smallwood, we've always been locals at the Bluebell.

"It was a fantastic pub before we bought it and it's a fantastic pub now, I just like to think that we've emphasised some of its character, we've improved some of the areas that haven't worked so well in the past and turned it into a pub that we hope everyone is going to enjoy.

"Right from when we bought it we started planning straight away, we always knew there were a few priorities, number one was to keep the character and charm of the pub, everything we did was with that in mind.

"We always knew the front of the pub is where everyone gravitated to, it's where all the character and history was so we were very conscious not to mess that up, so everything was cosmetic in that part.

"But we also know that there were parts that didn't work so well, one of which were the toilets, we knew that entire area of the building was dead space. The other part we knew we needed to improve was the kitchens, operationally it didn't work well and it created a strange shaped restaurant."

The new look eatery has incorporated a barn building that sits adjacent with a new link to the main building. It has enabled them to create an entirely new kitchen as well as new customer toilets too.

The Pear Hospitality group is making waves in South Cheshire, having recently acquired The Bluebell pub, which boasts a substantial beer garden. This marks the first time the group has owned a pub with such an expansive outdoor space, which they've utilised to create "Fort Smallwood" a dedicated area for children and families to enjoy.

Jake added: "We have a brilliant garden, and a fabulous play area for the kids. In the good weather this place was filled out at the weekend.

"We're in a rural area, our other sites tend to be in town centres, so it's a lot more chilled, a lot more relaxed and I think that aspect that people really enjoy."

Having established themselves with the acquisition of Pecks restaurant in Brownlow Heath in 2008, Pear Hospitality continued their expansion by purchasing the historic Wheatsheaf pub in Sandbach in 2016, followed by The Lion and Swan in Congleton in 2020.

Their latest venture, The Bluebell, was acquired in 2023, and the group has also revealed plans to repurpose the old Natwest bank in Sandbach, adjacent to The Wheatsheaf, to enhance their hotel and restaurant offerings.

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Jake further commented on the unique character of The Bluebell: "The Bluebell is very different to any venue, it's not just our venues, it has its own charm. I was here on Friday night and the atmosphere was absolutely electric, and the reason is because of the locals in this area.

"In a big way, this is not our pub, we're simply here to look after it, it lives and breathes because of the people that come here and give us the atmosphere that you can't buy, that's just the greatness of Smallwood."

Jake, the pub's proprietor, shared his enthusiasm for the upcoming seasons: "We're excited to see how it works with the seasons, it will be lovely to sit in here in the winter, get the log burners going.

"We can't wait to see how it adapts through the year and how people use it. The future for the Bluebell is exceptionally positive."

The Bluebell Inn is situated at Spen Green on the corner of Bell Lane in Smallwood, a mere three miles from Junction 17 of the M6 at Sandbach. For those using satellite navigation, the postcode is CW11 2XA.

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