Our Dulwich Hamlet reporter, Ben Henderson, discovers how the work behind the club’s new bar reflects the wider narrative of a community pulling together to achieve more than the sum of its parts.
DULWICH HAMLET’S return to Champion Hill became significantly more tangible last Saturday, at least for the club’s less sober followers, as the ground’s new-look bar was opened. I took a trip to East Dulwich to review it.
It was a cold wet December evening and, after the team’s defeat at Wingate & Finchley earlier in the day, I was fearful that the bar would be empty. Having never been to its previous incarnation, I did not know what to expect, nor where to find it. After parking my car outside Sainsbury’s I saw one man stumbling across the road, and I knew that the dark corner from whence he came must be the place. However, belying the hostile weather I was met by the warmest of welcomes. It was handshakes and hugs all round and a pint of lager had been shoved into my hands before I could utter the words, “I’m driving home”.
From an aesthetic point of view, the bar is spacious with a homely mix of sofas and tables, tastefully decorated walls showcasing moments from Hamlet’s history, and an eclectic mix of draught beer and cider. However, most eye-catching of all were the cheap prices. Finally, a local sports bar where one can actually afford to drink!
Dave Wade Brown, the bar manager and the driving force behind all this renovation, cast light on how it came about.
“Three or four weeks ago I was asked [to take on the project] by Tom Cullen, one of the directors, and Scott Collins, who owns Meat Liquor and Franco Manca,” Dave explained. “I’d been recommended to them by another local business owner named Ian who runs Brick Brewery. I thought the project was really exciting because I’d heard so much about the football club before.”
Dave emphasised the importance of local businesses in contributing to the bar’s renovation and future upkeep.
“We’ve had contributions from local breweries including Brick who I mentioned before and Canopy [Beer and Co], among others, who provided some local stuff.
“Local florists called The Fresh Flower Company have offered to bring us flowers every week. They said that what we’re doing here is really important to them because they really value that idea of community.”
In true Dulwich Hamlet fashion, the bar’s decoration was inspired by the fans.
Dave continued: “In terms of interior, I have a friend called Sam Mason who arranged the wall decoration with Jägermeister. Fans contributed thousands of Hamlet-related pictures and stickers and Tom Cullen whittled them down to a few.
“The images on the walls are an amalgamation of these fan contributions, each with its own cool, funny or political message. We’re really keen that supporters can add to it themselves, so fans are encouraged to walk in and slap a sticker on the walls. The idea is that this design is only a starting point that fans can add to – almost like a living history of the club. We want the bar to be somewhere that the supporters view as their home.”
Dave conceded that he might have initially bitten off more than he could chew in taking on the project alone. But, he was able to complete it due to the help of willing volunteers.
“One thing I’ve learned from this process is that I should have hired someone to help me,” Dave said. “Thankfully, every day there have been ten to fifteen people walking through the door to say ‘Hi’ and help out. Duncan [Chapman] and Clare [Keeble] have been working from dawn until dusk every day to get the place ready for the game on Boxing Day.
“One of the players’ dads – a fireman – came in to help ensure all our fire regulations were up to scratch. Even friends of friends who’ve got nothing to do with the club have come and helped out.”
The bar manger took a moment to reflect on the collective goodwill surrounding the club.
“It’s very unusual and it’s not something I’ve experienced much before,” Dave added. “You hear about the idea of local community, but you don’t actually see it much, and especially not in such force. It’s amazing and very refreshing! I’ve made friends with hundreds of different people over the last few weeks. This is the first time I’ve actually been able to sit down over the last month and enjoy it.”
The story of Dulwich Hamlet’s bar reflects much of the narrative of the wider club and its return to Champion Hill – the tale of a community pulling together to achieve more than the sum of its parts. Even if the football has not been fantastic recently, at least the fans have a bar that they can call home from which to watch it – and all at a great price!