New manager appointed to run refurbished Saffron Walden pub

A NEW general manager has been named to run Saffron Walden’s Cross Keys when a �600,000 refurbishment is completed in May.

Alison Oliver, 45, is a former professional musician who has 14 years of experience running top-quality pubs.

She worked seven years as a professional oboeist and played with several well-known orchestras including the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philarmonic.

But she moved into pub management in 1997 and has worked for some of the UK’s best-known pub companies, including London brewer Fuller’s and Kent-based Shepherd Neame.

For the last five years she has worked for Mitchells & Butlers running pubs that are part of its most prestigious brand, trading in a gastro-pub style. Most recently, she worked at general manager of the Duke’s Head in Billericay managing a team of 30 staff.

Alison says: “Saffron Walden is such a beautiful town. I’m really pleased to have been given the opportunity to run the Cross Keys which is going to be a wonderful facility for the town when it has been renovated.”

The Cross Keys, which is owned by Bedford brewer Charles Wells, is to be operated by the award-wining Innventure. The small pub company is headed by Chris Gerard, who was formerly an executive at Mitchells & Butlers and was the brains behind the development of the Vintage Inns chain of cosy, welcoming destination food pubs.

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“Chris left Mitchells & Butlers before I joined but he has a tremendous reputation for running superb pubs – I couldn’t hope to be working for a pub operator with a better track record in the industry,” said Alison.

The Cross Keys will be employing around 30 full and part-time staff. Alison is currently getting experience of Innventure systems working at the Wellington in Welwyn, Herfordshire. But she says she is looking forward to recruiting local people to staff the new-look Cross Keys.

“I like to recruit people based on personality. I am definitely a hands-on kind of manager and I think the best kind of staff are those who like looking after people. I don’t like to see customers not enjoying themselves and I think personable, caring staff are the key to giving people a great time.”

The Cross Keys is expected to re-open in May after a two-month refurbishment. Work will include removing the central toilets, believed built in the 1960s and a dividing wall, of similar vintage, to create an all new restaurant and bar. In addition, the Cross Keys will offer six boutique en-suite letting bedrooms once the re-fit is completed.

Clever use of lighting and plate glass will compliment the 16th century building celebrating the original architecture.