May the Lord's spirits be with you

Bradford's newest pub has an unusual landlord - a Christian missionary. By Mary Braid

MALCOLM WILLIS, the bluff, hearty landlord of the Cock and Bottle in Bradford, is getting in a round, so we push the boat out. I order a reckless Diet Coke. The Rev Robin Gamble tops that with a cup of coffee.

Willis squirms. During the recent media splurge to launch the down-at- heel Cock and Bottle as Britain's first Christian-run pub, the whole point was to present the bar as normal - though the staff are unpaid volunteers - and those running it as ordinary blokes, not wide-eyed, teetotal Bible- bashers.

When a hymn unexpectedly drifts from the sound system, Willis scuttles off and puts on something by M People instead. Eager to quash any misconceptions, he insists that the pastor is a drinker. Oh yes. Definitely less a Nescafe than an Old Speckled Hen man.

These days, image is all. Nowhere more so than in this inner-city pub whose raison d'etre is to spread the word of the Lord but, in a secular age, needs to employ a little subtlety lest the punters take to the hills before their conversion is complete.

Sitting in a corner of the crowded Victorian bar, which is situated between bleak high-rises and the Balti Express takeaway, Gamble, special adviser on evangelism to the Bishop of Bradford, recalls how he was pulling pints behind the bar when a local strode in. "The bloke took one look at me wearing my dog collar and walked right back out again."

Gamble argues that his aims are gentle - to reach out with the love of God. He promises: "No one who pops in for a pint will have religion rammed down their throats." The consortium has pledged that "Christian entertainment" evenings will take place in function rooms, and one-to-one sessions with tortured souls in cosy side snugs, and that God will not be mentioned in the bar unless the punter brings Him up.

It is an odd division, which may blur with time: "No one is selling Jesus in the pub," insists Willis, a self-confessed womaniser who was himself "saved" only a few years ago.

Jesus is certainly being flogged on the side. Only last week, Willis took a drunk home, after refusing him alcohol - "the pubs' standard practice with drunks" - and suggested he might get down on his knees and talk to the Lord, an interesting variation on the usual "go home and sleep it off" approach.

It is a tough call, modern evangelism. In other parts of the country pastors have turned to gimmicks such as training as clowns and fire-eaters and even offering spiritual advice in rave clubs, to spread "and sugar" the Word.

Gamble pioneered after-pub teaching in Bradford city centre. "There were a few hairy moments," he admits, when drinkers pelted him with bottles.

He has been exploring the pub idea for a few years, and hit the jackpot when Enterprise Inns was struggling to find a way to rehabilitate the unwanted Cock and Bottle. The inner-city bar had earned its rough reputation. The beautiful stained-glass windows were regularly shattered during brawls and a few years back the pub landlady killed her violent partner on the premises.

The Christian consortium has spiritually cleansed the premises, praying in every room. Tonight, "those of the congregation" are out in force, but it is too early to say whether they will be able to pull the locals in.

Some old regulars are now back in their old corner of the bar. They have not heard Willis describe the pub - in another emotional departure from their "just an ordinary bar" script - as a "Christian mission station". And they are entirely nonchalant about the new operators, and any possibility that the Christian consortium is simply luring them in.

"It hasn't put me off a bit," said Cathy Morton, 48, a "weddings and funerals" Christian, and a Cock and Bottle regular for the last 10 years. "All that matters is what they have done for the bar. The renovation is great and so is the new atmosphere. It's wonderful not to have to worry about the fighting."

The Metcalfs - Alma, 75, and Bob, 77 - have been regulars for 30 years; they live across the road. "It's great," said Mrs Metcalf. "Local people feel safer coming in now." She said there are a lot of unfamiliar faces - presumed to be "of the congregation" - but she adds that everyone is mixing well.

Even Bradford's Muslims appear to have been won over. A local Muslim taxi driver reveals that he has started to frequent the pub - for soft drinks only - since the Christians made it safe again.

So far, the only hostility has come from a small Evangelical church dismayed that Christians should have taken to the bottle. It all hinges, of course, on whether you believe that Jesus would have been up at the bar, or protesting outside against people coming in.

The Christian consortium has no doubt. The Lord would have been with his people, propping up the bar.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas