Landlady always looks out for her locals at caring community pub

Kath Birch who is the landlady of characterful Phoenix public house in Southsea.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (133246-8)
Kath Birch who is the landlady of characterful Phoenix public house in Southsea.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (133246-8)

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DETERMINED landlady Kath Birch has been in charge of The Phoenix for 12 years – and has overcome a number of big challenges along the way.

Kath was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, but fortunately she’s now been given the all-clear.

But sadly, her mum died and she became down over the death of her right-hand man Colin. And on top of that, there have been problems with the structure of the Southsea pub that have needed addressing.

But Kath has bounced back and recently signed a 20-year extension to her lease on the pub, which is owned by Enterprise Inns. She wanted to stay because she couldn’t imagine herself working anywhere else and loves the place so much.

At the same time, she’s taken a bit of a step back and handed over a lot of her duties to manager David Tait.

Kath said: ‘Everything was getting on top of me.

‘Unfortunately it seems cancer is everywhere. Once things pile on top of you, it seems to come out. But I managed to stay strong and managed to cope with it.

‘I’m one of the lucky ones.

‘I love this pub – it’s brilliant. I wouldn’t be at any other pub in the city.’

Kath has worked in pubs since she was 18.

She previously worked at The Red, White and Blue, in Fawcett Road, Southsea, and The Fifth Hants Volunteer Arms, in Albert Road, Southsea, for eight years each. Kath was working behind the bar at The Phoenix when the landlord at the time agreed to sell the lease to her.

‘I asked if he would consider selling The Phoenix and he said he would at the right price,’ she said.

Committed punter Jackie Jackson-Darke has enjoyed life at The Phoenix for 35 years.

The 53-year-old lives just three doors away from the community pub, in Duncan Road, Southsea, and sees it as an extension of her living room.

She said landlady Kath Birch is a wonderful woman who helped support her when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour three years ago.

Fortunately she’s pulled through, and it’s made her realise even more how much she values one of her favourite places to go and socialise.

‘Kath really supported me and my husband Melvin when I was diagnosed with cancer,’ Jackie said.

‘Melvin was absolutely terrified, and so was I. Kath is a lovely landlady. She loves the pub. She adores it, and people admire her.

‘I feel at home here.

‘I know everyone and there’s a really friendly atmosphere.

‘Everyone feels welcome.

‘It’s a really nice pub.

‘It’s a sad thing that pubs like this are becoming few and far between.’

Jackie is one of 30 locals that will have a Christmas lunch with Kath before she opens up the pub on Christmas Day.

The caring landlady is doing it because she can’t stand the thought of people sitting on their own at home.

‘You can’t leave people indoors on their own,’ Kath said.

‘Someone will bring along a cheese board and another will come along with a bottle of port.

‘We’ll just sit there and all have a lovely time together.’

Kath is always looking for ways to help others – and right now she’s committed to raising money for the Guide Dogs charity.

She wants to get enough money together for a guide dog in homage to Colin Lilley, her ‘right-hand man’ who sadly died a few years ago.

He helped clean the cellar, put up the barrels and trained two golden retrievers in the pub.

‘We wanted to do something to remember his life, because you never really forget someone,’ Kath said.

‘We want to keep his memory alive in people’s minds.

In the two months since the initiative began, £500 has been raised through black out events.

The pub has been told it needs to collect £5,000 in the next two years and afterwards it will be able to name the dog and meet its owner.

Staff want to call the pet Colin if it’s a male or Lilley if it’s female.

Kath said: ‘Your locals make a pub. If you have a pub full of nice locals then it creates a nice atmosphere.’