The late September summer of 2017 was the last time that local residents saw the inside of The Fellowship Inn as it had come to be known; decomposed, degraded and in an almost absolute state of deep-dyed disrepair.
The pub had sat atop its small hill on Randlesdown Road, seemingly untouched by care or kindness for decades, and according to all accounts given by local residents, some who frequented the pub, and others who made a point not to, the assumption of categoric neglect would not seem far from the truth.
Nearly two years on and this weekend saw the grand re-opening of the pub under a new name, and new ownership, The Fellowship and Star, aptly named and aligning with the pub’s new operators Electric Star Group, who signed onto the project in December 2018.
Walking through The Fellowship with Yarda Krampol, the pub’s new manager, there is an almost palpable sensation of the promise of potential, and speaking with him I get the sense that this will not be a promise unfulfilled. The walls of the Fellowship that were riddled with rot are now transformed by funky floral pinks and a muted palette of blues, greys and whites is brought alive by pops of colour in retro-futuristic artwork. The design has all been thoughtfully chosen by a dedicated interior designer, Emma Jane Landolt, who has worked on a number of projects with Electric Star Group. The retro-futuristic artwork seems a perfect choice for The Fellowship and Star, now a place where history also meets the future.
Pristine walls and star-spangled ceilings now intersect with a number of older wooden features of the building that have been preserved as part of the £4.2million lottery-funded restoration project.
Amongst some of the original wooden features that remain untouched are the main level bar, the bar in the function hall and the downstairs entrance doors on Knapmill Road, that will serve as an entrance point for people wanting to purchase box office tickets for the newly restored cinema.
Restored areas of the historic building include the previously derelict main level saloon, a cinema that will comfortably seat 86 people, a function room with capacity for 150 individuals, a cafe designed to seat roughly 35-40 people and a fully-fitted stainless steel kitchen.
Sitting in the unfinished cafe, Yarda assures that the restoration of The Fellowship and Star building is merely the beginning.
“We’re in a period of getting to know our audience. We’d love to do loads of live music here… live music that’s not going to disturb local residents because we are very aware that we’re in the middle of residential area, so not going on ‘til too late at night, having reasonable volume levels, etc., but I think it’s a great space for live music, and I think it’s great heritage for artists who came through the function room as well.”
Electric Star have wasted no time booking acts that are certain to bring the neighbourhood out in droves. Thomas Turgoose, best known for his roles in the This Is England film and TV franchise, is scheduled to play a DJ set on June 21.
Other events that already have the neighbourhood buzzing are Bez, of Happy Mondays, who will play a DJ set July 12, Johnny Cash tribute band Cash on July 19 and The London Astrobeat Orchestra performing on July 26.
Yarda also speaks enthusiastically not just about the events planned for local residents, but about the opportunity that the all-but abandoned pub has now created since its re-opening.
“We started from recruiting local people, that was our main aim and it still is now. Almost 100 percent of our staff are Lewisham residents… and around 70 percent are actually Bellingham residents, which is an amazing achievement. ”
On Saturday evening, as the pub rumbles with conversation and music, outside, two members of bar-staff, Courtney and David, chat enthusiastically, discussing what being a part of The Fellowship and Star now means to them.
“It’s a nice family environment where you can just sit and enjoy yourself. Something like this brings the community together. Recently there’s been quite a lot of bad things happening in the area, so something like this which is so positive is great, and there’s even more that we’re going to add.” – David
“One thing I think is really cool is that it’s creating a lot of jobs in the area. To know that people our age, who grew up around here, now have a solid job that pays quite well is really cool. Growing up locally, we don’t really have any interesting pubs. I do theatre and events and it’s nice to know that I can also utilise the venue and promote the arts. It’s amazing to know that it’s open to the youth in the area.” – Courtney
As we sit overlooking the building site on Knapmill Road, I can think of nothing more than how refreshing it is to hear Yarda speak so freely about what the pub aims to give back to the community. The plan is to offer the function space through the weekdays before 5pm, free of charge to groups and initiatives who pitch great ideas for the community to get involved in. Yarda talks about a boxing class for young people, inspired by the legacy of Henry Cooper, the late Bellingham-born boxer, who will soon be honoured with a statue by Phoenix Community Housing, the resident-led housing association and local landlord of many Bellingham estates.
Other ideas Yarda would like to introduce include, “An apprenticeship program, art classes, community photo portraits and other creative ideas where people can just drop in and use the space.” He says, “I think the audience is here for it and I think that South East London deserves it.”
After chatting with local residents and overhearing their conversations, it would seem that none disagree. This is the Big Bang event that Bellingham has been waiting for.
Alan, who has lived in Bellingham for 7 years said:
“I live about 2 minutes walk away. I came here once or twice [before it re-opened] but I didn’t really like it. This is infinitely better, a massive improvement. It’s my first time inside since it reopened and I think it’s fantastic, I’m massively impressed. I’m particularly looking forward to the cinema reopening.”
Another local resident, Matt, who has lived in the area for around 15 years said:
“I live 5 minutes away and I’d never been inside, I’d never really thought about it, it’s not been much to think of, but I was walking by and saw the opening and it’s really lovely inside. It’s just cozy, we’ve got the cinema, it takes five minutes to get here. It’s my new local now!”
Currently, only the main-floor pub is open to the public, with the cafe and cinema opening up in early July. However, with great music and a fabulous menu offering burgers, buffalo wings, steak and chips, as well as gluten free and vegan options by way of a spicy bean and beetroot patty, gluten free buns and sweet potato fries, the coming weeks should be sure to keep local residents more than satisfied.
After our chat, Yarda retires to his office, and I wander around the building, amazed at the sheer magnitude of the transformation of a place so close to home, that has always seemed so far away. I circle my way back to the as-yet unfinished cafe, and sit for a moment, staring into space. A framed fluorescent screen printing of the words “WE ARE ALL STARDUST” sits, perched in the window staring back at me, and it inspires one final summarising thought, that maybe the Fellowship Inn was predestined to degrade the way it did, and that instead of the pub’s regeneration happening in spite of decades of negligence, that perhaps this was the rebirth that was cosmically planned all along.