IT’S been something of a homecoming for Joanne Laver, the new landlady of the Forest Inn at Ashurst.
She has had her eye on the Georgian country pub for decades.
As a single mum 20 years ago, she was a regular customer when a group of mums would bring their children to the pub to play in the garden following regular trips to nearby Longdown Activity Farm, then known as Longdown Dairy Farm.
Around a decade ago she would stop outside for a drink with her horse after a ride in the Forest.
Finally Joanne made the move to the old fashioned country pub, which stands proudly on the Lyndhurst Road in the heart of the village and backing onto open Forest, in June.
It’s a real family affair with Joanne and partner Ian Vass at the helm as landlord and landlady, Joanne’s son Liam Laver behind the bar, an expert on the extensive array of whiskies they stock, and a small team of local staff.
“I’ve got quite a lot of memories from this pub as it was years ago,” says Joanne.
“It definitely feels like coming home. I love it. I just love that you wake up and look out the back and all you can see are trees and fields with horses in. I’m so happy to be back here and love the country feel of it.”
The couple, who made the move from Reading, looked at pubs in Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Wiltshire at the end of last year. But Joanne kept being drawn back to the New Forest and signed up on the spot for five years with with Stonegate Pub Company, the largest pub company in the UK, when The Forest Inn became available.
They spent seven weeks transforming the pub interior and exterior. They have given the building a fresh lick of paint, delighting locals by returning the colour scheme to the much-loved black and cream.
Ian added: “Jo and I have worked really hard over the last couple of months and I can’t believe how good the pub is looking! We’ve given everything a much-needed lick of paint, introduced new signage and I have to say, the place is looking sharp.
“It’s been great seeing how excited our local community has been too – we’ve had plenty of people stopping by to have a look at what we’ve achieved, and the response has all been positive.”
With its large outdoor area, a climbing frame for the kids and abundance of tables, the Forest Inn reopened just in time for regulars and visitors to make the most of the summer holidays.
Several New Forest District councillors and Ashurst parish councillors have already visited during a special pre-launch night, keen to see the pub’s makeover.
The pub currently has a drinks-only menu with Doombar, Orchard Pig cider and Pinot Grigio proving particularly popular.
Food will be back on the menu soon with Ploughmans and other pub staples set to be served alongside a children’s menu.
Briard puppy Pini will become the pub dog after training.