Village pub welcomes artists

Pubs as hubs of the community are popping up across the country as landlords with vision save them from closure by opening libraries, shops, post offices and even internet cafes.

Taking it a step further is The Nelson Arms in Middleton-by-Wirksworth which proudly boasts that it is the only Art Pub in England.

Here, every week, a dozen or so people meet up to learn how to paint, draw and print under the watchful eyes of artists Ben Hardy, a ceramicist, and Mark Hadfield, who paints and draws.

The duo who met while lecturing at Derby College have joined forces to form their own artistic company Hardy Hadfield specialising in art and design workshops for adults.

Mark, who lives in the village, says they had the idea that they wanted to provide somewhere local people could access art which was not too formal, and so they asked the pub’s landlords – husband and wife Jane Monaghan and Alan Johnson if they could use a room there.

“Jane was brilliant and she said she had the perfect place which happened to be a huge room upstairs they had just renovated. Since then Pubart has gone from strength to strength and we regularly get 12 people in here,” said Mark.

“They were all beginners and like many people some had a fear of drawing because they had been told at school they couldn’t do it.

“What we do here is all about removing barriers and building people’s confidence. One thing we do is ban rubbers as they embed failure. If you don’t think you can get rid of something as a mistake it liberates you to express yourself more freely.”

If you glance around the walls of the pub studio and even the bar itself there is plenty of evidence to prove his theory as in just a few weeks the class of beginners are producing some great work.

When I called in on them they were working on a still life painting and they were all mightily impressed with how they were progressing.

Among their ranks is host Jane who said she had always had an interest in painting and had doodled a bit so she couldn’t resist joining in when the club was launched.

“When Mark asked about having an art club I thought it was a brilliant idea and like everyone else I am learning such a lot from them both,” she said.

She and her husband bought the pub five years ago as a retirement project and have embraced the idea of a community hub and getting as many village groups as possible using their space.

“We have had to build the pub up from scratch but the people in this village are amazing. It started with a folk jam night and now we have regular bands, music hall, folk and disco as well as the monthly folk jam sessions. Some musicians even use us as a place to practise.

“We have hosted an exhibition of photographs by Kate Bellis and even have a Knit and Natter group meeting here. The Pubart group is definitely the most unusual group we have at the moment but we would love it if other arts groups wanted to launch something here. The more the merrier as far as we are concerned.”

For up-to-date details about events at the pub go to