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The ‘iconic’ Cowdray Arms is coming back to life and with a Michelin Star chef!



L-R: Neal Hayes and Stephen Crane

New owner Neal Hayes is a very excited man. Having taken over the lease from Hall and Woodhouse after they bought the pub from Greene King he is now overseeing a huge makeover.

The well known iconic establishment on the corner of Balcombe Road and Paddockhurst Road has been around for many years and even hit headlines last year when a fire broke out causing much damage.

It’s fine dining but not at fine dining prices”

But now the Cowdray Arms is about to make a return and a big one.

Neal has run and owned pubs for the last 22 years and currently runs two gin bars in Reigate and Lewes with another pub in Reigate. Having opened many establishments over the years he took some time before making the decision to go for the Cowdray which he will be running himself on a day to day basis.

But this is not just a lick of paint from a new owner for Neal has teamed up with his friend and Michelin Star chef Stephen Crane to create something very special for the area.

“I’d known Stephen for a few years and spoken many times about working together,” says Neal, “but we could never find something that worked for us both. When I approached him about the Cowdray he said it was perfect.”

“It’s a pub that people drive past all the time but has been run so poorly in past, what we want to do is bring back its former glory.”

Stephen is nodding emphatically:

“For me I grew up in Balcombe and have great memories of coming here with my family, particularly my grandma, I still drive past several times a day and for me it was the perfect fit and this is one I can really get my teeth into.” he says.

The passion the two men have for the Cowdray is very evident.

Neal explains:

“After the fire Greenking decided to sell it and I saw it as an opportunity to open something near to Crawley where I live and try to relaunch a gastro pub with a twist. We just want to bring something needed, not a chain pub but something different. Local produce is the main thing, no microwave food here, we are very much looking at sustainability and local produce as people really want to know where their food is coming from.”

And what better way can there be than having someone who has earned himself Michelin Stars.

it’s all about consistency and not taking any shortcuts”

Stephen Crane will be overseeing the menu and the staff and has had a Michelin Star for 14 years working at Ockenden Manor. His passion for food started when he was only 14 where he did the washing up at Highley Manor hotel in Balcombe where being surrounded by the chefs he got the buzz that this was something he wanted to pursue. Following time at catering college in Crawley he got an apprenticeship at a Gatwick hotel and then various positions around the country. But in 2001 the opportunity to work at Ockenden Manor came about which gave him more of a work/life balance that he craved.”

“We are going to really look after the local suppliers and look to do things better than every one else. No frills, no spills true pub food that is all from local suppliers.” says Stephen, “It’s all about really good food, day after day after day, it’s all about consistency and not taking any shortcuts and that’s what will make us stand out.”

Neal adds,

“We will offer a great local produce menu with local gins and beers adding some boutique rooms to the side and take it to the next level for Crawley and Sussex in general. We want to make people excited about coming out and coming to the Cowdray.”

There is already quite a big buzz across Crawley about what is happening at the Cowdray Arms, you only have to take a little look across social media to see that.

“People are bored with what is on offer currently in the area,” continues Neal, “now it’s time for us to bring something new and more exciting.”

Stephen is also looking at doing specialist days like a beer evening with a taster menu specially created. But whilst it all sounds very glamorous they are both keen to point out that this is not going to be some posh expensive pub.

“It’s fine dining but not at fine dining prices. It’s quality but in an informal background, you can come in your jeans without a blazer.”

But it’s more than just opening a pub, Neal and Stephen want to be able to help locals as well and want to look to the future with potential apprenticeships.

The outbuildings are being converted into boutique ensuite bedrooms

But there is more. For Neal is having the outrooms converted into boutique bedrooms. Three rooms will be completed in May ready for guests to stay right next door to the pub.

What is clear is that the real passion that both Neal and Stephen have for the Cowdray is going to come through instantly with its customers and it is certainly apt to say that this icon of the area is getting the revamp is deserves.

It all starts on Wednesday 17th April when the doors will reopen with an official opening on the 19th April.


Did Crawley Council Leader really tell worried business owners ‘we’ll let the court decide’ over rent hikes?

It has become one of the hot topics of the year, the 30% rent increase for businesses on Tilgate Parade. But has an open letter from a councillor revealed more than just a heated debate.



Take a walk through any part of Crawley where there are shops. How many of them are the same ones that were there just a few years ago?

In-fact if you walk through the town centre then you are almost going on a walk of memory as you pass empty units or one of the too-many-to-count coffee shops.

Parades so far have faired a little better with most retaining their stores but for how much longer?

Rules set out that rents for businesses must be set at a certain percentage of the value of the property, we will gloss over the fact that councils do have options in which they can reduce this as this has been spoken about at length before.

So a 30% rent hike, whilst shocking, is not surprising as prices increase over the years.

Tilgate Parade where rents are to increase by 30%.

But now an open letter by Tilgate Councillor Francis Guidera has potentially revealed just how much tension there really is between the business owners and the council.

In the letter (which you can read here) Mr Guidera talks about a discussion held after a recent Full Council meeting where eight Tilgate Parade business owners were ‘confronted’ by the Council Leader.

According to Mr Guidera’s letter, Council Leader Peter Lamb ‘demanded’ to know why the council should ‘subsidise’ profit making businesses.

Now heated words between disgruntled residents, business owners and opposing councillors are nothing new but according to Mr Guidera the parting words from the Council Leader appear to show that tensions are at breaking point.

“We’ll let the court decide” – these are the final words, according to Mr Guidera, that Peter Lamb used to the Crawley business owners as the conversation/debate/argument (use what you will because it is not clear what it was) came to a conclusion.

The whole country is on a political see-saw with every party taking any opportunity it can to score points from the other so letters like this can be seen to be just that, another point scoring opportunity – BUT – ‘if’ what Mr Guidera saying is right then it does beg the question of whether the council is really understanding the true concerns of the very people it represents.

CN24 approached Mr Lamb for comment but at time of publishing had not received a response.

There are rules, regulations, legislation to follow but there are also opportunities open to councils to make a difference and to help those it works hard to convince it wants to help. So why such defiance?

The see-saw has dropped on one side now, let’s see what comes out to make it tip the other way?

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