Leading pub-restaurant firm Oakman Inns and Restaurants has purchased the freehold of Westlands House in Olney, the former care home, where it is seeking planning permission to convert the Grade 2 Listed building into a new town-centre destination.
Oakman already has 17 venues across Bucks, Beds, Herts, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire Essex and the West Midlands which have achieved a three-star rating from The Sustainable Restaurant Association.
And chief executive Peter Borg-Neal is hoping to add to his portfolio further by finally realising his ambition to open a pub-restaurant in Olney.
“I have long been an admirer of Olney and have always wanted to have an Oakman Inn in the town,” Mr Borg-Neal said.
“We really like this part of the world and the runaway success of the Navigation Inn at Cosgrove has provided further encouragement. We’re always looking to continue to grow our reputation for providing a modern, relaxing atmosphere and a welcoming environment. A coffee lounge where mums can have a latte with their friends; a restaurant where families can celebrate an anniversary, or simply somewhere where a young couple can have that special dinner together. It’s going to be a venue for those wanting a more stylish and comfortable but affordable offering than the ordinary.”
The new venue will, if granted planning permission, be called The Cherry Tree after Olney’s June Cherry Fair. Based at 3 High Street, the building’s original address was in fact 13 Market Place and was the home of the Hipwell family, the local Brewers and pub landlords, who lived there for almost a century. Then, as now, the building lay at the heart of the town’s activities, with the monthly farmer’s market, the weekly Thursday Market and The Olney Pancake Race attracting many visitors to this bustling and vibrant town and all taking place on its doorstep.
Oakman Inns is hoping to create up to 40 new jobs in Olney, and has a history of winning “Best Employer” awards as well as boasting an excellent training programme and a huge range of staff benefits.
“Our people lie at the heart of our success because they care not only about their environment but about the communities we serve,” Mr Borg-Neal said.
“This weekend, for example, we were hosting 10 minis and juniors rugby teams from some of the rugby clubs we sponsor across the Oakman family of pubs. We had over 400 youngsters, plus their mums and dads and families, all having a cracking day playing rugby at Allianz Park the home ground of the Saracens.
“We had Peter Baines, the president of the RFU cheering them on, and we had all of them being looked after by many of my staff who have given up their Sunday to help. This is typical of how we work with our communities – participating rather than just donating.”
Peter and his Oakman design team intend putting their proposed plans on display in a week-long exhibition where the local community can ask questions, see the proposed plans, get a feel for the design materials such as fabrics and furniture and, of course, to express their views on the proposed project.
And he has moved to reassure residents he fully intends to preserve the history and character of the building.
He added: “When we did the near £2m restoration of the 17th century Crown & Thistle in Abingdon’s historic centre, we worked very closely with the local historical societies. As a result, we uncovered old fireplaces, which we reinstated; discovered the original course of the local Thames tributary and located the original cellars – all of which we maintained and preserved for future generations. We’re known and recognised for the design work and commitment we make on maintaining our portfolio of Listed buildings, while at the same time making them warmer, lighter, airier, cleaner and openhearted. The towns we serve all have this sense of history but they also embrace the changes needed to thrive and prosper.”
Full details of the planning exhibition will be announced in the next few days with location and times.