London is famous for its busy and vibrant streets but one leafy neighbourhood in Harrow has managed to keep its peaceful village vibe.
Pinner has been described as ‘a dream place to be’, with residents and business owners forming a close-knit community where ‘everyone knows everyone’.
Turning onto Pinner High Street feels different than many of the capital’s shopping districts. Its mix of Tudor and Georgian style buildings containing mainly independent shops are overlooked by the Grade 11 listed St John the Baptist Church, which has been standing for over 200 years.
Sean White,67, has been the landlord of The Queen’s Head, Pinner’s oldest Inn, for more than 10 years. Records show that the Grade II listed timber frame building on the High Street has housed a pub since 1540. Although a survey dates the cellar as far back as the 12th Century.
Sean described Pinner as “a lovely area” but, when he first took over the pub, incidents of homophobia and misogyny meant he set about making a cultural change to the place. Sean told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that his first job was to ban those responsible, even if they had been regulars for 40 years.
He said: “Since then, we have been very proud to display the pride flag. We are not a gay pub but we are sending a very clear message, we are a pub for everyone.” The landlord’s new people-led philosophy has been well received by the local community and the pub has seen its annual takings grow from £300,000 to £1m over the past decade.
The former school teacher now claims to have 400 regular customers that he knows by name and boasts of having “the best staff retention of any British pub” and it’s not hard to see why. Staff receive regular training, don’t work on their birthday, are fed for free, can have an alcoholic drink after work, and get their cab fare home after shifts.
He said: “There’s a real buzz. I’ve got a waiting list of staff […] but we have a very, very slow turnover. We pamper them but it means they pamper me too. […] I’m really proud of how it runs, respect builds respect.” He has also enrolled in a graduate apprenticeship scheme, where the government pays 95 per cent of the university fees and he pays 5 per cent.
This enables staff to get a degree whilst gaining work experience, whilst the pub benefits from keeping staff and benefiting from the training it invests in. Two members of staff are currently enrolled in the scheme, for which Sean is “massively proud” of, with one recently nominated for ‘Apprentice of the Year’.
The success of the Queen’s Head comes against the backdrop of steep decline in the number of pubs across the country, but particularly in London. The capital lost 46 watering holes in the first six months of 2023, according to data from real estate analysts Altus Group.
Sean suggests many of these closures are likely due to a lack of investment in the pub, the diabolical state of the toilets, and inadequate policies towards staff – such as not providing training and subjecting them to “double shifting”.
He said: “I saw a lot of weaknesses in British pubs, one of which was that they were not very friendly places. The message we have been sending out over the years is all about respect.” This approach fits in well with the overall vibe in Pinner, where there is a keen focus on community and inclusivity.
Tee Coskun, 32, who has managed 1336 Barbers on the High Street for the past three years, believes “respect and loyalty” is what makes the community do good.: “It’s really welcoming and diverse, [whilst] managing to keep that village feel. […] Everyone knows everyone pretty much” He jokes: “You get tired saying ‘hi’ to everyone walking down the street.”
Tee was looking for places to set up the business in and around North London but said when he turned onto the Pinner High Street he knew “this is the place”. He told the LDRS that “a lot of blood and tears” have gone into the success of the barbers and all the locals have been “very supportive”.
However, Tee is having to wait for interest rates to go down before he is able to relocate here permanently. He said: “The houses are very expensive, round here you’re not getting anything for less than a million. You’re close to a station, 40 minutes from central London – it’s a dream place to be.”
Whilst much of the capital has been feeling the strain of the rising cost-of-living, Tee explains that the area hasn’t been as badly affected but people are more price conscious. This has meant he has resisted hiking his prices.
He said: “We haven’t raised prices because of the fear. The fear that it will put people off coming. If one month your haircut is £22 and the next month it’s £24, you’re going to go somewhere else.” Because of this Tee says “business hasn’t really suffered, all businesses round here are doing well”.
One gripe Tee has is with the parking situation on the High Street, he claims there’s not enough spaces for businesses and some elderly residents have complained about the council’s switch to online payments. He said: “They have to put their details in and they don’t like it. They’re old school and they get angry”.
Julie Walter has “no regrets” about moving to the area back in 1996, and is now the Chair of the Pinner Association – a charity that works on behalf of local people. She said: “Pinner is a very vibrant community with lots of events being organised by different local organisations.”
The area plays host to village shows, concerts in the park, and parades, as well as what Julie calls the “famous Pinner Wheelbarrow Race”. Organised by the Rotary Club, the event is a huge draw for local residents, with the finishing line being at the top of the High Street.
Pinner has had to undergo some changes over recent years as it adapts to an evolution of shoppers’ habits. This has left some empty retail units on the High Street and nearby Bridge Street, which Julie believes residents “are concerned” about.
The High Street has been designated as a local conservation area by Harrow Council since 1968, which has helped to protect its character and beauty. Due to the number of listed buildings, there are certain restrictions in place in terms of what alterations businesses can make to ensure one of London’s prettiest streets in tact.
It doesn’t restrict the types of businesses, unless they are licensed, but it does means any changes to the shop frontages, such as signage and paint work, must reflect the character and style of the area. Any building alterations are also subject to planning approval by Harrow Council.
Pinner councillor and Portfolio Holder for Business, Employment and Property, Cllr Norman Stevenson, said: “It is a positive thing having conservation because it’s a very attractive location. A lot of businesses would really love to be there.”
He added: “A business is encouraged and expected to keep its frontage smart looking and fitting in with the area. There are Grade II listed buildings and one’s got to be careful about dramatically changing them. If it’s one of the older buildings of course it’s got to be preserved but it doesn’t hold businesses back. […] We have a strong residents association that keeps an eye on this as well.”
Cllr Stevenson said a few new businesses opening in the area has meant there “aren’t many” empty units now. He added: “There’s a new cocktail and wine bar that’s opened just last month so it’s pretty positive”.
On concerns about parking, Cllr Stevenson “doesn’t see it as a real problem” as there are car parks within walking distance of the High Street and the council’s new one-hour free parking scheme has had a “really good effect” on local businesses.