Isle Of Dogs: How The Lord Nelson pub is starting a new chapter with Cara Venn

Bow-born licensee has taken over venue following a £220,000 refurbishment by brewer Heineken

The Lord Nelson on Manchester Road is set for its official reopening on February 24, 2024

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“It will be a very sports-led pub – a community hub – somewhere everyone can enjoy coming,” said Cara Venn.

“That’s what I want to bring to the Isle Of Dogs. We’ll be playing all the sports, with new screens installed showing Sky and TNT.” 

It’s a vision that fits well with The Lord Nelson’s history.

Built in 1855, linked to Bethnal Green’s Charrington Brewery, the pub once served as the headquarters of Millwall Rovers (now Millwall FC) who played their games at the neighbouring Lord Nelson Ground from 1886-1890 and used the boozer to change into their kit.

Fast forward 134 years, and Cara’s tenure is set to mark the latest chapter in the story of the pub that stands on the corner of East Ferry Road and Manchester Road.

Now owned by Star Pubs And Bars – part of Heineken UKThe Lord Nelson has spent the start of 2024 undergoing extensive refurbishment and is set to officially mark its reopening on February 24. 

Born and raised in Bow, Cara has moved in above the pub as its new licensee, building on a career she embarked on as a teenager.

“I’ve always worked in pubs since the age of 16, first as part-time jobs,” she said.

“I’m a bit of a workaholic – I’ve often had three jobs, working in offices and film studios – random stuff. 

“When Covid hit, I lost all my jobs. Then pubs started opening up – it was the only work available, so I thought I’d look at it properly.

Cara Venn, The Lord Nelson’s new licensee

“I had so much experience to build on and I ended up managing The Full Nelson in Deptford – which was a vegan bar serving cocktails and food. 

“That was great, but I left because I decided I wanted to join a chain company.

“You learn so much on the job, but if you join a bigger firm, you get training too and I wanted to understand every aspect of the industry, including back-of-house stuff.

“I wanted to do it properly and to find out about becoming a licensee. 

“Over the past four years I’ve been general manager for a number of pubs in London and now I’ve taken on one of my own.”

Cara’s CV includes time in charge of The Chandos in Brockley and the Three Compasses in Hornsey. She left that venue for Star’s Just Add Talent programme – which matches prospective licensees with pubs – and has presided over The Lord Nelson’s refit.

“The idea is you get your own pub, be your own boss – it’s like being a general manager, but you also get major support from Heineken and it felt like a natural progression for me,” said Cara.

“I’ve always wanted to run my own place and I’m ready to do it.

“I went for it and ended up getting The Lord Nelson. 

“They give you a list of all the pubs they have available in the country and, because east London is my home town, I thought this one would be ideal for me. 

“The pub is wet-led, which I think is a great place to get started and the plan is to take on some more pubs once I’ve progressed with this one. 

“This is going to be my baby. I wanted to go back to east London because it’s home to me and I’m passionate about the community.”

Cara has big plans for the venue and is eager to welcome locals old and new.

She said: “The refurbishment has gone really well – it was a tired looking pub and needed a lot of work.

“With Heineken investing £220,000, I feel like it’s a place people will be proud of and want to come into.

“As well as the sports, we’ll have a programme of continuous entertainment.

“I want to do quizzes, live music, burlesque nights – I feel like there will be an appetite for all of this. 

The Lord Nelson has had an extensive refit inside and out

I also want local people to come in and chat with me so I can listen to what they want.

“I want to do charity events and make it a fun pub that’s a proper boozer.

“It’s looking beautiful and I want it to be really, really busy, for everyone to come together here.

“I also have budgets to spend on hosting our own darts and pool teams – I want to sponsor local sports teams too, so get in touch.

“Living above the pub, it will be 24-7 – but this is my home and I’m really excited.”

While the pub has already opened for a soft launch, Saturday February 24’s opening party marks the start of a new era at the pub. 

“Everyone is welcome to come,” said Cara. It will already be a busy day with the Six Nations games taking place and Arsenal on as well. 

“Then, later on we’ll be having a live band called the Bear Pit – it’s going to be a big palaver.”

After that, the business is set to get into the swing of things with regular drinks offers including buy one, get a half free on Mondays and happy hour offers from Tuesday to Friday.

The venue also has a 24-seat garden, with Cara pushing for an outdoor screen in time for the warmer months.

“I can’t wait to see people sitting out there and having a good time,” said Cara.

“I can’t wait to welcome my new neighbours in.”

Find out more about The Lord Nelson here

The pub boasts a dart board, a pool table and a beer garden

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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