Community champ goes its own way

The landlord of Alva pub the Crown Inn had no experience in the licensed trade before taking over the bar five years ago.

It was a move that Stephen Polley now admits was a baptism of fire.

• The team at the Crown Inn and, bottom, Michael and Stephen Polley receiving their 2014 SLTN Community Pub of the Year award.
• Michael and Stephen Polley receiving their 2014 SLTN Community Pub of the Year award.

But with his son Michael taking on the manager’s role and additional help from younger sons Grant and Kevin and wife Tracey, the pub quickly became a popular haunt for locals.

Stephen told SLTN that one of the pub’s biggest strengths has been its appeal to customers of all ages.

This was not always the case, but the family has worked hard to attract a younger audience without alienating older customers.

“I think we provide a great service to the community, the bar really is like a community centre,” said Stephen.

“We’ve always tried to make people of all ages welcome.”

This emphasis on inclusion, plus regular community, social events and fundraisers, helped the bar clinch the 2014 SLTN Community Pub of the Year, in association with Scottish Leader.

The family are clearly proud of the honour and display the title above the entrance to the bar.

“The customers took a sense of pride in us winning the award,” said Stephen.

Crown Inn, Alva 6
The team at the Crown Inn

“They were proud of what we had achieved and felt they had achieved it as well.”

In addition to quizzes, competitions, social events and fundraisers, the bar hosts an extensive programme of live music, karaoke and sporting events.

The team also accompanies members of the local social club on outings and trips and ensure they provide company to customers who need it.

Stephen said: “We’ve tried to create a pub here with the kind of atmosphere we would enjoy, a pub we would want to go to.

“Because we are a well known family, for us it’s more about giving back to the people that gave to us.”

The Crown Inn is also fortunate to have its own local celebrity in the shape of Stevie McCrorie, who won last year’s The Voice talent show.

The singer, who lives locally, has helped the bar raise thousands of pounds at race nights and charity fundraisers and is a regular customer in the pub.

“He was in a few weeks ago and he is now down in London working on his new album,” said Michael.

“He has helped us raise a lot of money for charity; what we do is we try and combine something like a race night with a fundraiser.”

A former Scottish World Champion at pool, one of Michael’s pleasures when he gets a moment is to shoot a few frames of pool with customers who come into the pub.

Since he began managing the bar, he has reinvented the back-bar drinks selection and developed its outdoor area.

More tables have been introduced during the summer months and he also claims there has been a change in the type of customers frequenting the pub.

In addition to regulars, the bar is said to be attracting more women and young people who are often en route to a night out in Stirling.

“It’s the Crown, then the town, that’s what the younger ones say,” he said.

“The clientele has definitely changed; in the past women never used to come in to the pub, but now it’s half and half and we have to cater for our female customers too.”

It has meant the manager has had to find out the type of drinks customers want and adapt a range to suit their palates.

In addition to Tennent’s Lager, Belhaven Best, John Smith’s, Guinness, Coors, Carling and Strongbow on tap, the bar stocks a range of house spirits such as Scottish Leader, Glen’s vodka and Gordon’s gin.

These house pours are said to be more popular with the older clientele, while younger customers turn to brands such as Grey Goose, Hendrick’s gin and Bombay Sapphire.

“Cocktails are going through the roof,” said Michael.

“The younger generation are all wanting more cocktail-based drinks and premium drinks. They are looking for quality and how the drink is presented.

“The only cocktail the older drinkers really want is a lager tops.”

Stephen initially leased the pub, but last month the opportunity arose to buy the premises he and the family have spent five years developing.

He grabbed it with both hands.

The acquisition led to the temporary closure of the venue for a two-week refurbishment, which included rewiring and installing new toilets.

The gantry and seating was also replaced and the pub’s pool table given pride of place.

Stephen said: “It was manic in here for a few weeks while the work was done and was quite an experience.”

Owning the pub has also meant the Polley family has had the opportunity to really make it their own, said Stephen.

“You can’t stand still, you’ve got to try and keep moving forward or people will bypass you, you’ve got to find out what your customers want,” he said.