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Penny Doe and Kylie Turkoz Ferguson FBII

The Bell Inn in Castle Hedingham, Essex, has been standing since 1440 and serving the community as an inn since at least 1592. But licensees (and sisters) Penny Doe FBII and Kylie Turkoz-Ferguson are anything but stuck in the past, taking on this historic pub with a very forward thinking ethos, when it comes to operating sustainably. The BII’s Peter Baskett MBII reports


The Bell Inn is a long-established pub, purchased in 1884 by Walter Gray and remaining a Gray & Sons inn ever since. The field behind the pub used to grow hops, centuries ago, and true to its history, The Bell maintains a hop garden out back to this day. Passed down from mother to daughters in 1999, the pub is currently run by sisters Penny and Kylie. They recently achieved the BII Sustainability Champion status for the incredible effort they put into ensuring that The Bell Inn is as environmentally friendly as possible. With minimal alterations to the original structure, the pub maintains its old world charm, even boasting a Georgian Long Room, which in years past would have accommodated meetings and balls in the village. From the old arcade games and pinball machines, to the vintage decor and working fireplace, it is clear that the pub’s longstanding history has been embraced. While the sisters have made a phenomenal effort to lean into the historical elements of the pub and its surroundings, they have made an even greater effort to ensure that some things – such as single use glass bottles – remain in the past.


The sustainable pub journey started in front of a television screen, where the pair were inspired by David Attenborough’s documentaries, which illustrated all too clearly the extent of the damage that humanity is causing to our planet. In Kylie’s own words, Penny likes to get things done, rather than just talking or complaining about something. So, they took to their kitchen to see how they could start, and quickly found that they could eliminate cling film by opting for paper packaging options and tin foil. “That was actually really easy. We still use foil, but we haven’t used cling film since 2017. You have to get creative, but you actually feel quite proud when you discover a new way to do things,” says Kylie. They emphasise the power of taking small actions wherever possible, as this is not only how they started, but how they continue to drive sustainable change in their business. Since some of the bigger actions, like installing solar panels, aren’t always an option, they want people to know that the little steps still make a difference. “You can’t just say ‘well we aren’t going to do anything because whatever we do isn’t going to make a difference’ If everybody said that, then nothing would ever happen,” says Kylie. “Hopefully, by us talking about it with you and with our customers, it might help get the message across to people who are wavering a bit, or not sure if they can be bothered.”


The benefits of sustainable operating go beyond simply feeling good for doing right by the planet, they might actually drive business and save money in the long-run. Consumer trends show that sustainability is holding greater importance on people’s purchasing decisions than ever before. And with increasing numbers of people considering the environmental impact before spending, operators risk missing out on vital business. Plus, Penny and Kylie have saved a significant amount of money over time by making simple moves: no longer purchasing straws, or having paper receipts for card machines. As well as reducing waste, these are items they no longer need to spend money on. “Have that wish list of the things you want to do, and it gradually happens. As the lightbulb goes, put the LED one in – don’t change them for LEDs in one go, that’s just a waste! “Once you start doing it, apart from the fact it feels good, it can save money,” says Kylie. One recent innovation for The Bell has been the arrival of an ecoglass wash, which recycles water. Previously, everything was washed by hand, but due to the sink being too low and causing back pains, a replacement became necessary. This was seen as an opportunity to introduce more environmentally friendly measures. “We’ve never had an electric glass washer in the bar, but this is energy efficient. There is often an initial cost, but then there are savings.”


While The Bell Inn only offers a limited menu, they still try to source ingredients locally, getting most of their meat from a farm shop just 10 miles away. Similarly, they buy vegetables from the local wholesaler, which also reduces packaging, since the fresh veg is bundled into a big box. The Bell serves Two Farmers’ crisps, which are totally plastic-free. Prior to acquiring a commercial composting contract, they took the crisp packets home to compost. “I needed to see if they would actually disappear in my compost at home. They did, which I was pleasantly surprised by. We have now got a commercial composting contract for food waste,” says Kylie. They are also mindful of where they source their drinks from. A new addition to the bar is Toti, an alcohol brand which makes rum and donates money to marine welfare. They also stock Wilde Samphire gin and Tuffon Hall wines, which are sourced locally “Our biggest turnaround has been replacing our house gin (Gordon’s) and our house Smirnoff vodka with Sapling gin and vodka, which are carbon neutral in everything that they do. Although it is more expensive to buy, by putting it in as the house gin and the house vodka, we’re eliminating less sustainable options. “We were happy to swallow that cost and proudly serve something that we are very happy with,” says Kylie. Making customers aware of their efforts has also been important for The Bell, as it attracts like-minded people who want to do better for the environment. It also encourages questions from others who are curious. “By stocking Two Farmers’ crisps in their compostable packets and by putting the Who Gives a Crap toilet paper in our toilets with ‘Who Gives a Crap’ written on it, that’s actually shouting about the things that are important to us,” explains Penny. “It’s saying we do give a crap!” Kylie chimes in. Leaving our readers with some advice, the pair suggest taking a look around your pub and seeing what things, big or small, you can do today to be more sustainable. “You have to do what you can without compromising your offering, but actually you’ll find the changes don’t tend to compromise your offering as much as you’d think.” Just be sure to do your research first, and be conscious not to greenwash, they warn.
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