Nestled in the Rushes in downtown Loughborough, the Swan sits proudly. Appearing as a humble traditional pub, the Swan might seem like a venue focused on its long-time locals. But in recent times it has become home to a vibrant and diverse community, and is a focal point for events in the town. In fact, as the oldest remaining pub in the Castle Rock family (acquired in 1986), it really has had quite a remarkable journey.
The pub’s friendly and boisterous manager, Elaine Ner, has been a driving force behind this. She has been key in taking the Swan in the Rushes from difficult times to a much-loved ‘community pub’ in the purest sense of the word. No surprise, then, that after a number of years of hard graft, Elaine was duly awarded the ‘Manager’s Manager’ by Castle Rock this year.
Her secret? A passionate team of staff and an open mind.
‘When I first looked up the pub on Untappd the demographic was listed as 95% male and a huge majority was over the age of 40. I started to look at how we could change this. It turned out that we weren’t listed as a student friendly pub with the University. I worked hard to change this and now we’re proud to welcome all ages and demographics. The last time I checked online the balance had changed to 85% women!’
Things shifted when Elaine and deputy Edith spontaneously decided to host Loughborough’s first ever pride festival in June 2021. The reception was incredible. The event has since been cited as a key turning point to welcoming in a more diverse and younger crowd.
Since then, the Swan has been keen to keep that momentum going. Despite a couple of very challenging years, they battled through and made some incredible moves during social distancing restrictions. Most impressively, they took a basic car park round the back of the pub and created a thriving beer garden, serving over 300 customers with queues down the street during the peak of summer 2021.
An equally admirable trait of the Swan in the Rushes is their will to ‘try anything’, another philosophy that the staff and management pride themselves on. It’s no wonder, then, that their versatile function room, ‘The Hop Loft’ is now host to all kinds of weird and wonderful bookings, from theatre productions, to ukelele groups, student socials and even doggy Christmas, where local mutts queue up for their chance to meet “Santa Paws”!
If there is a moral to the story it’s this: sometimes a pub can really be turned around by passion and hard-work. Elaine’s relentless pride and ability to talk (this article could have been significantly longer!) has been instrumental in boosting the pub’s status. She is always out and about, talking to strangers and telling them that she manages the pub, creating a community and making sure it’s always a welcoming and safe space. So much so, that Elaine reckons the biggest boost to the pub came about unintentionally. An unfortunate situation arose which resulted in two customers being barred for racist remarks. Word quickly spread around town and new patrons flocked, encouraged by the pub’s reputation for being welcoming of people from all backgrounds.
The Swan maintains this by being open to changing customer tastes. They have a great selection of cask and keg beers from local and regional breweries, as well as, (I was shocked to hear) up to 45 different ciders. A taste for this apple-y nectar came from their emerging student crowd and so they’re now well-stocked for socials and society takeovers, where hundreds of pints of the stuff are pre-ordered!
Looking to the future, Elaine and her staff are excited to have a summer ahead for events without restrictions. They plan to run Loughborough’s second Pride festival, promising to be bigger and better than before, as well as a number of music events over the summer months. One thing is clear. Whatever your tastes or interests; whether a Lord of the Rings gaming night, their alternative quiz (one side of the bar vs the other!), drag bingo, or just a good drink, you’ll be sure to find it at the Swan in the Rushes.
Written by Nick Strang.
‘As a fairly new employee, I really enjoyed this opportunity to visit one of our pubs outside of our home city of Nottingham. Meeting Elaine and Edith from the Swan in the Rushes was a great experience and it really grew my appreciation for the pub itself and the love that has gone into what they do.’
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