The Former Assistant Headteachers Turned Publicans
Married couple Corinne and Dal Gill were both assistant headteachers at a high school in Derbyshire until the autumn of 2021, at which point they decided on a dramatic change of career. They would walk away from the education sector altogether to become self-employed publicans, running their own Marston’s Pub, The Cricketts Inn in Acresford, South Derbyshire.
“I left my job in May 2021 without another one to go to,” says Corinne. “We started looking for pubs the following September—which deals, which breweries, et cetera. By October 2021, we’d signed a Pillar Partnership agreement with Marston’s and were in The Cricketts. It’s been a whirlwind, honestly.”
There will, no doubt, be educators reading this who can barely believe the Gills would be so bold as to make such a decision. After all, reaching Assistant Headteacher level takes a great deal of perseverance, experience and commitment to the education system. Rest assured, though, that it wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly.
“We’d always had this romantic notion of running our own pub…”
“When the Covid-19 pandemic began and we went into lockdown, we reflected a lot,” Corinne says. “The education sector has changed and we weren’t getting the same job satisfaction as we were when we both started out. We’d always had this romantic notion of running our own pub and, over the course of the spring and summer, things just started falling into place—the stars aligned, you might say—and we decided to go for it.”
Whilst neither Corinne nor her husband Dal had ever even worked in a pub before (Corinne had worked in five-star hotels in her youth), they were given a taste of the kind of life they dreamed of when they set up a street food business in a shipping container outside a local snooker hall. This “side hustle”, run while still working full time as teachers was just the catalyst the pair needed to go ahead and realise their lifelong dream of running and operating their own foodie pub.
“I’m a big foodie,” says Corinne. “I love cooking, eating and entertaining. That’s where my passion lies.” So, when the Gills began looking for the perfect pub, it had to be one that enabled them to express their passion for wholesome, hearty dining. The Cricketts was only the second pub the couple looked at, but they quickly realised it would be the ideal place for them, not only because it was the right kind of pub, but also because it was offered under the terms of Marston’s new Pillar Partnership.
“We’re too maverick and pedantic about dining to have the food we serve dictated to us.”
The Pillar Partnership is a new kind of pub deal that enables budding publicans to make a relatively low capital investment—of a level that would normally mean being tied to a set menu—yet with all the freedom to develop a menu from scratch. There are no ties to Marston’s food products at all and Pillar Partners get to keep a significant proportion of food profits, as a result.
“It was the Pillar Partnership agreement that sold us on the deal, honestly,” Corinne says. “We liked that there was autonomy over the food side of it. The idea of being tied to Marston’s for drinks took away the headache of thinking about that and allowed us to focus on the food menu—we’re too maverick and pedantic about dining to have the food we serve dictated to us. No ‘ping ping’ reheating here.”
You only need to look at the quality of the menu offered at The Cricketts Inn—with everything sourced locally—to see that the Gills have taken their newfound creative freedom seriously. Local hunters have, for instance, delivered pheasant and partridge to the pub and that was added to the menu as a daily special in the form of pheasant and partridge pie with suet pudding and a black cherry and bacon gravy. Corinne, however, tells us that the venison pie is her favourite item on the menu.
“We have integrity, honesty and good intentions…”
“It’s gamey and amazing,” she says. “It was created by our Head Chef, a French guy called Rudy, and he puts it together with the help of his three brilliant Chefs. The venison’s been stewed in Marston’s Pedigree Ale, brewed in Burton just up the road. The locals are all mad for it and I am, too.”
Corinne’s enthusiasm is charming to the last, there’s no doubt. Probably one of the reasons The Cricketts Inn has been nominated by Marston’s as a candidate for its Pub of The Year. We wonder, though, if the novelty of being a self-employed publican might wear off as Corinne and Dal become more accustomed to the pub life.
She looks at us with amused confoundment and says, “I get to spend all day, every day doing things I love. We’re in a National Forest, meeting interesting people from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s a rich, meaningful life, compared with the frustrated, unfulfilled one we were living before. As we’re our own bosses, we’re setting our own values. We have integrity, honesty and good intentions and are building the pub based on those. It’s beautiful and it’s blossoming!”
We will consider ourselves told.
Looking for something else to read? Take a look at our article on 4 Professionals Who Reinvented Themselves as Pub Partners.