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Gillian Stevens, manager, Elephant & Castle pub, West Moors, Dorset

Gillian Stevens, manager, Elephant & Castle pub, West Moors, Dorset

Despite returning to the industry only in April last year, she became Eldridge Pope’s inaugural Manager of the Year in November.

Her love affair with the licensed trade began when she started working, aged 18, behind the bar of a pub owned by a friend’s mother, the Kings Arms in Longham, Dorset.

Despite several attempts to leave the pub industry behind – setting up a clothing business, Catwalk Fashions, in 1996 and becoming a marketing manager at Commercial Marine & Piling (CMP) in 2004 – Stevens has returned to the trade time and time again.

“I kept leaving the industry and going back. There’s been plenty of times running pubs when I’ve had enough and had to move away for a while to realise just how much I love working in them,” she says.

In 1999 Stevens returned to the industry after a break, as a relief manager for Eldridge Pope.

Having watched others running pubs not half as well as she believed she could, she was more than ready in 2000 to seize an opportunity to become licensee of the Swans in Verwood, Dorset, a big sports bar operation.

At first she found herself questioning her decision, as she juggled work and a young family as a single mum in her 30s. “I could have walked out at any moment, but after six months or so I had won the customers’ and staff’s respect. Although, living in, it was very hard to actually ever get away from the business,” she says.

“A lot of people would say running a pub back then in my position was impossible. But I’m not the sort to sit around, and I believe I have shown you can do what you want with determination.”

After five years in charge at the Swans she took on the role at CMP, outside the industry. “I’d got to the point where I’d had enough – but then I was so bored in the new job.”

Returning to the Eldridge Pope fold at the Elephant & Castle six months on, she is now remarried and enjoys running a community pub with no juke boxes or pool tables, where old-fashioned chat is encouraged among the customers.

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