Richard and team set stage for success at Iron Horse


Richard at home at the Iron Horse

The team used lockdowns to put together a new multi-purpose riverside dining area, and it's proving a hit with diners, bikers, and drinkers from miles around.

The venue has always been popular, with the Goldwings Owners Club regularly listing it as one of the top bikers' destinations in the country. 

Peterborough Matters caught up with owner Richard Swinscoe to talk about how life has changed in the  past 18 months.

I grew up in Deeping, and my background is in engineering, as an apprentice with Baker Perkins, and then got into transport.

As you travel you pick up ideas in life. I've been to the States a lot and I like bikes, music, beer, food, and people - so that was really the idea here. Many of the staff are bikers, it's just what we like, and when we have American visitors they say it makes them feel at home.

I started with a little coffee shop in the precinct 13 years ago, so we already had a reputation locally. When this site became available it was a wreck. Only the brick part of the building was here, so we've built the kitchens and extensions and everything else. It's near Peterborough, Stamford, Bourne and Spalding, so there's four catchment areas, plus the Deepings and little villages, not serviced by anything like this.

The rent is £25,000 because it's only for the original building, and my business rates are about £13,000 a year. If I was to go to Peterborough I'd be £60-70,000 for rates and maybe £100,000+ for rent - it's just not viable, and you can see that with the venues that are closing down. Microbreweries are OK, but anything that's bigger gets caned.

From when we first moved to this location we wanted to make the most of the river and the space, and had been doing bits and pieces over the years.

So when Covid came and we shut, we could either do two things: Put our hands up and surrender, or do something about it.

There was a bit of panic at first, and a management meeting. Staff were wondering if they'd be paid, or if we'd ever come back. Nobody knew at that point. There was no furlough and I just said that we'd have to work through it and grab what opportunities we could. 

We deep cleaned and tidied up, ready for when we could reopen. We thought it would be a month, but then they brought in furlough and we realised it would be longer.

The other thing we did was join Just Eat, so we had a delivery and collection service going which kept us ticking over and gave our main staff a few hours.
For the rest of the time we looked at doing the back. We got a grant of about £9,000 for the first year. It means people can eat by the river and it's also a stage.

That was last year's major build, and our workers, chefs and waitresses all chipped in. A local carpenter who had been laid off also helped.

When they locked us down for November it was terrible. Christmas parties take you through January and February, and then by the time Easter comes the bikers start returning and you've got a summer again. That lockdown stopped us again.

Lat year we had lots of marquees for events lashed together, which weren't very good. They leaked water and when the storm came last autumn one was completely wrecked. So this year we knew we needed something 'proper' - we'd proved we could host bands and people who wanted to see music. 

Verity (Richard's daughter) had linked up with Lincolnshire Forum which had the university, Lincolnshire County Council,  district councils and others, helping small businesses. We were put forward for various grants, including IT - this entire area has wi-fi and people can order from their tables.

We were then put forward for a rural development grant, and they gave us £25,000. So we bought this marquee from Germany via a Huntingdon-based company. Tilly's Marquees put it up for us - another local company - and we've done the decking.

Over the last six weeks we've been doing a bit each week, and now have a proper dance floor. We also built a new retainer wall; we used to have quite a wicked slope out here, and that put bikers off because if you've got a big bike and you lose your footing that could be £25,000 gone.

There's an outside tiki bar serviced straight from the cellar, we've got a smoking area and heaters coming for the winter - we're now as close to an outside venue as we can be.

Last night we had a comedy club which went well, poetry and a magician - I even took part in a card trick from my bed at home when he rang me up and put me on loudspeaker!

We've had some events with 150 people here. Deeping is our primary catch but there's only 13,500 people in Deeping. We draw them from Peterborough, Stamford and Spalding, and on the motorcycle front from Nottingham, Norwich and London.

We also have events for traders as well - we had three last year and they were popular. We can do parties, alternative weddings, and we've got a celebrant who is working with us, so if you want a rock and roll wedding we can do that, or an American one. 

It's not mainstream but there's a backlog of weddings, and we can work with people so they can do what they want.We like to say that we can do from the cradle to the grave, from christening to wakes.

The main thing is that we employ local people; apart from me and Verity they're all from Deeping, so we're putting money back into the local economy.

Providing we don't have another lockdown, we'll be fine. Customers are coming back and we're getting a good reputation. Bands are lining up to play here because there's not many places with a stage that big - we could have an orchestra if we wanted.

We can welcome bikers to families to old age pensioners - everyone's welcome, and I can say that because I'm old!

I'm retiring in October from the day to day. Rachel and Verity will do that instead, I'm going to Norfolk, and I'll just commute if and when I'm needed.

One of the things about lockdown was that I started to think in a different way. Years ago you had to be in workplaces all the time and it was hard to delegate, but they've proven they can do it without me. 

We also have another transport business in Peterborough, and we've had national sales conferences, annual conferences, all via Zoom. We can have 120 depots all coming in together for a meeting online and we're productive, as opposed to a weekend in a hotel when you're speaking and at the bar and it's spend spend spend and you can't remember it because you've had too much to drink - that's your weekend gone.

Now you can do business, get it sorted, and move on.

It's a different way of working. I've been 13 years in Deeping and it's now time for me to have a rest and let them do what they do best.