Landlord ‘taken aback’ at news government funding had rescued pub

Department for Levelling Up claimed it had saved the Old Red Lion

Friday, 27th May — By Anna Lamche

red lion pub

Damien Devine, publican at the Old Red Lion

THE landlord of a famous theatre pub was left scratching his head after the government claimed it had saved his business.

Damien Devine said he was “a little bit taken aback” when he read a press release from the Department for Levelling Up last week, which claimed it had “rescued” the Old Red Lion Theatre Pub with government funding.

Mr Devine, who has run the pub for 22 years, said: “The theatre does not need rescuing, it needs security of tenure. The theatre has emerged from the pandemic as strong as ever.”

The government press release suggested a different story, telling reporters: “The Old Red Lion has been saved from risk of closure,” adding it is one of eight community projects across England and Northern Ireland “set to be rescued by more than £2.2m of government ­levelling-up funding.”

Despite the confusion, Mr Devine said the funding was “an exciting development”. The pub is set to receive £255,000 contingent on securing a new lease.

Dating back to 1415, the Angel’s Old Red Lion is widely acknowledged to be one of London’s oldest pubs. It has been run as a “family business” since 1979, Mr Devine said, when the room above the pub was transformed into a theatre space.

“We’re very proud of being a ­theatre pub,” he said.

But the lease is set to run out early next year, and Mr Devine, 61, is looking to move on with his life. “I’ve been here 22 years, I’m not going to be here forever,” he said.

Before leaving, he is keen to ensure the theatre’s future. “I could do the normal thing and just sell the lease and go on with my life,” Mr Devine said.

“But then there’s no control over what happens to the theatre, which has been here 43 years – but we don’t want to do that. So we had to get a little bit more imaginative.”

With that in mind, Mr Devine said “the idea is to negotiate a new long-term lease so that we can secure the theatre going forward.” Once this lease has been negotiated, Mr Devine will have access to the £255,000, which will be spent on fixing up the building, which he said is “just old”.

He added: “We need some bits and pieces done on the outside, the roof needs some attention. We’ll probably remodel the theatre space, and then we want to investigate disabled facilities.”

Mr Devine said he had applied for the money – which has now been awarded to him from the Levelling Up Fund – via “a community-based initiative” called the Community Ownership Fund a while ago. “I don’t really know the politics of the process,” he said.

The money was an­nounced by Neil O’Brien MP, Minister for Levelling Up, The Union and Constitution. “I didn’t even know there was a minister for Levelling Up,” Mr Devine said.

After Mr Devine leaves, the pub may be run as a charity, overseen by “custodians and trustees and people with independent professional experience.”

Until then, the theatre pub will be operating as usual, with Saving Britney, the theatre’s first post-pandemic production, due to open in July.

Asked to clarify the confusion, a government spokesperson said: “The Red Lion pub was facing the barrier of security of tenure, meaning this facility was at risk of being lost to the community of which it belonged.

“The Community Ownership Fund is enabling the Red Lion Pub to overcome this barrier by helping ensure that people in its local community will continue to benefit from this treasured local institution in the future.

“Government funding will also give the historic pub a new lease of life by helping to relaunch the business as an arts venue and space for community events for future generations to enjoy. We are pleased to help the Red Lion Pub continue to run successfully.”

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