In its distant past Ye Olde Smack in Leigh on Sea was a hive of smuggling activity. Reputedly, tunnels running underneath the pub aided smugglers by concealing movement of contraband, arriving in secrecy via the estuary. Today this historic, traditional Great British pub remains a sociable, community hub and provides a year-round, warm welcome to everyone – families, fishermen, day trippers and locals.

“This pub is the beating heart of Old Leigh. It’s always at the centre of whatever’s going on.

“Old Leigh is a great place for a day out. The pub is less than ten minutes’ walk from the train station. There’s lots of history. The cockle sheds, our heritage centre and the seafront, along which you can walk all the way into Southend,” said Manager Maz Handy.

Plenty of room inside and a warm welcome at Ye Olde Smack, Leigh on Sea

Inside Ye Olde Smack, Leigh on Sea

Situated on Old Leigh’s cobbled High Street, directly on the waterfront, the pub boasts beautiful, ever-changing views of the estuary which can be enjoyed from the pub’s rear terrace or on cold, inclement days, from behind glass and the comfort of indoors.

A Greene King pub, Ye Olde Smack offers beer drinkers plenty of choice. There are eight traditional real ales on tap. The house beer, Ye Olde Smack Ale 3.7% ABV, is brewed to the pub’s specifications at Brentwood Brewery.

Assistant Manager Sonja Oldham is responsible for the cellar and keeping all the ale in best possible condition. The pub holds the Cask Marque Award for selling great quality real ales.

“I’ve been running the cellar for about eighteen months now and it’s the best part of my job!

“I like to have a variety of ales, from IPA’s to porters, so there’s a taste for every palette.

“I always keep Ye Olde Smack Ale available. It has become one of our most popular ales. Our guests love the fact it’s brewed locally by Brentwood Brewery, a very well-respected and well-known name. Greene King IPA is also always on tap. I’m lucky to be able to obtain a wide selection of guest ales too which I usually keep on for two weeks,” said Sonja.

The menu celebrates classic pub fayre and offers diners many options. From lighter meals like sandwiches, smaller plates and baked potatoes to hearty traditional meals and desserts. On Sundays roast dinners are available throughout the day.

There are proper, award-winning pies but most requested and synonymous with the seaside, has to be fish and chips. Chunky, hand-battered cod with chips, peas (mushy available) and tartare sauce costs £11.99. A wholesome plate already but you can big it up. Their ultimate fish and chips comes with the addition of pickled onions, bread and butter as well as curry sauce at £13.99. Scampi fans, your favourite dish comes with chips, peas and tartare sauce and costs £8.99.

Also popular is the 8oz matured Black Angus rump steak served with grilled tomato, chips, onion rings and peas £12.99.

Their burger menu is varied and very interesting. Choices include chicken. Also a vegetarian red and black bean Mexican burger as well as an attention- catching Dirty Burger which comes with chilli con carne (£11.99). All are served with fries and coleslaw.

Be prepared to make some new canine acquaintances, especially at weekends, as this is a dog-friendly pub which gets mentions on and In Autumn bird watchers flock here too, keen to observe migrating Dark-Bellied Brent Geese feeding on Eelgrass in the estuary.

“Geese, having travelled from Siberia, come to Leigh October/November time in their thousands and people specifically come down to see them,” added Maz.

Ye Olde Smack

It’s an ideal venue for relaxing, recharging and enjoying a fine pint and great food. In winter you can warm up by one of three open, log fires. In summer you could choose something from the barbecue or just enjoy alfresco dining in the courtyard or rear terrace, looking out over the estuary.  Time your visit right on a Friday or Saturday night and you can enjoy live music. Or Thursday evenings, join in quiz night.

Old Leigh’s events calendar is chock-full with things to do and see. In the summer there is the cockle season, (dates vary each year) the folk festival (22nd – 25th June) the regatta (usually September), and maritime festival (usually August).

Beer & Food Match Suggestion:

Seaside fish and chips

Brentwood Beer with Ye Olde Smack’s Fish and Chips

A pint of Brentwood-brewed Ye Olde Smack Ale 3.7% ABV, pairs perfectly with chunky, hand-battered cod fillet with garden or mushy peas and tartare sauce £11.99.

Ye Olde Smack | 7 High Street Leigh on Sea Essex SS9 2EN |  01702 476 765
Open daily from noon. Food served daily from noon.

© Wendy Pike,, February 2017

This article was first published on Brentwood Brewing Company’s website: (Visit the Tap Room & Shop at Brentwood Brewery, Calcott Hall Farm, Brentwood 01277 200 483) and also in The Brentwood Gazette.


Grieving the loss of a loved one is what brings people to New Era, Brentwood and Billericay’s bereavement support group, but it is the support, friendship and laughter they find there that keeps them going to meetings.

Each two hour drop-in session offers an opportunity to natter with people in a similar situation, in a supported, informal atmosphere over a cuppa. Monthly afternoon meetings are held on the second Wednesday of the month at St George’s Church Hall. As ever, there were refreshments aplenty at January’s meeting as well as a celebration cake, marking the group’s 10th anniversary.

Managing Director of Bennetts Funerals, Jane Bennett said: “We started the group because we realised there was a need for support within the area.

“What is so fantastic is the support people give each other – they are their own success. They can pass onto new people the message that it will be alright, that their life will change and become different but there is still a life.”

A decade ago a handful of people attended the first meeting. More than 30 New Era members marked the group’s special anniversary, enjoying a slice of cake, taking part in a fun quiz and drawing a raffle. Importantly, there was ample time for chatting with friends.

Doreen Fairman from Basildon said: “It’s helped me tremendously. I think when you talk about what’s happened to you, you kind of get it off your chest.”

Doreen has been attending New Era for about five years, since the loss of Norman, her husband of 53 years, in 2010.

“Although you lose someone that’s very dear to you, it’s very hard at the time, there is a way to carry on your life if you get out and about.

“There are outings. We’ve seen a couple of shows. I’ve made friends. I’ve had to push myself to do things a little bit but it becomes second nature now,” added Doreen.

“You feel safe to open up. Another time you don’t have to say anything. You just have a cup of tea and it’s nice to meet people,” said Lynn Hailey from Hutton, who has been attending the group, after recently losing three close family members.

Janet Botwright of Bennetts runs the support group which offers empathy, trust and understanding. “I think most people feel supported by being in the company other people who understand there are good days and bad days. Dealing with anniversaries and birthdays can be really difficult.

“Friends will support in the short term but their lives carry on as before whereas the bereaved life is changed forever. And that’s what other members understand,”said Janet.

Father and daughter Roy and Jo Roper from Hutton have found the group welcoming and easy to talk to. Their first meeting was five months ago, after the loss of wife and mother, Viv, in June last year.

“It is hard the first week but here you feel comfortable talking to anybody,” said Roy.

Jo added: “You don’t feel silly or embarrassed. If you want to talk about your loss, if you feel sad, everyone has been through something similar.”

Meetings are free but a £1 donation is requested for refreshments.

Janet added: “The tea and coffee money goes towards hiring a coach for trips further afield once a year.

“We take people out to places of interest like garden centres, museums and anywhere the group expresses an interest in going. We organise meals out a couple of times a year too.

“We try to get people reconnected with life and get them to do things they perhaps wouldn’t do if they were at home on their own.”

Independently, New Era members have started organising a regular evening dining club.

A separate parents’ bereavement support group, Our Grieving Hearts, is also run by Bennetts. It meets on the first Monday evening of the month in Brentwood and second Monday afternoon in Billericay. Last year the group became part of the national charity for bereaved parents, Compassionate Friends.

“There was absolutely nothing out there for bereaved parents. Bennetts had the foresight to start a support group exclusively for anyone who has lost a child because it’s a very different type of bereavement.

“I came as a user of the group in 2011 when my daughter Emily died and I got so much from it that I wanted to reach out and offer that support to more people.

“We want to show newly bereaved parents of a child of any age, what hope looks like. You will have a life after the loss of your child but it will be different. It’s learning how to live the rest of your life without your precious child that is the challenge,” said Bennetts’ Bridget Holley.

© Wendy Pike, January 2017

This feature was previously published in The Brentwood Gazette

Bennetts Funerals (Brentwood & Billericay)

Jack and the Beanstalk – Panto at Zinc

By Wendy Pike

It’s uplifting and lively.  It’s fun and very funny.  If you haven’t joined in a chorus of The Ongar Mash then you haven’t yet seen this year’s spectacular panto at Zinc, Jack and the Beanstalk.  And you’re missing out.

What a brilliant show.  The cast, predominantly children from Stage One Theatre School, perform their hearts out with such energy and focus, you have to remind yourself they’re students albeit with oodles of talent for acting, singing and dancing, executed with complete professionalism.

Filling the stage with a selection of giant, OTT frocks, large enough to deserve their own postcode, a ginormous chest and mammoth personality, the lead, panto dame, Madame Mayo, is at the heart of the action as Jack’s Mum.  The role is played exuberantly by professional West End actor Mario Frendo.

Madame Mayo’s deep apron pockets are filled with a plentiful supply of sweets which are generously distributed to children in the audience.  Be ready:  there is lots of audience participation. Good-humoured banter and leg-pulling too, especially for those sitting at the front.

Other professional cast members include Laura Barritt, who is usually Fairy Sparkle, but on Saturday played a splendid Jack.  An energetic Jill was played by Emily Wershof and an equally effervescent Red Riding Hood by Shelly Payne.

Jack's Beanstalk

Also, Barron Von Greedy, played by Haydn James, was such a convincing evil henchman, he was heartily booed at his every appearance, without need of encouragement.  Despite being a baddie – and he did look very fetching in his purple suit – he was incredibly polite, thanking the audience for bestowing boos and hisses.

Fairy Sparkle’s glitzy assortment of attire shimmers as keenly as any spangly costumes on Strictly Come Dancing, all set off by an impressively towering, bright pink, beehive hairdo.  Played on Saturday night by Beth Snook, who usually plays Jack, this character is charmingly ditzy and ever so slightly bungling, explaining some initial reluctance to use her magic.

The creative, fast-paced, contemporary choreography is mesmerising, performed by Stage One’s Green Cast on Saturday with unfailing precision and energy.  All stars in the making, they look like they’re having a ball too.  With so many performances, another team of students, Red Cast, shares the workload on other nights.   Jack’s brother Simon is played brilliantly by Green Cast’s Sammy Miller and the cook, equally so, by Emily Stroker.   Check out the coolest of little dudes in the Michael Jackson sequence.  His moonwalking moves are amazing.

The set design, lighting, audio and colourful, creative costumes are all first class.  Add to that the relaxed, cosy theatre with its raked seating and great facilities in which enjoy pre-show, post-show and interval refreshments and what do you have?  A winning formula for a great, West End-style experience right on your doorstep in Ongar.


The show is peppered with humour, cleverly written to include suitable comedy to engage and appeal across the generations.  Witty one liners, visual gags and some clever jokes for the grown ups keep the audience laughing throughout.

As you would expect there are magic beans, a fabulous pantomime cow, Buttercup, and a golden goose.  A giant beanstalk of course.  Not forgetting the the fearsome giant in the clouds, his scary presence created by a booming voice.  The X-Factor announcer blended with Brian Blessed.

Set in Ongar Marsh and narrated by Red Riding Hood, the plot’s twists and turns take the audience on a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. In between there is an amusing chase scene as the drama builds.  But in true panto tradition, good triumphs over evil.  In the end Jack gets his Jill and Madame Mayo discovers the baddie, Barron Von Greedy, isn’t entirely bad which puts him on a very short shortlist as potential marriage material.

Be prepared to boo, shout and sing as well as clap until you cannot feel your hands.  And LOL (laugh out loud).  Literally.  A lot.  Madame Mayo’s twerking routine is one hysterical highlight of many.  A joy to watch.

If you find yourself, or someone you know, with a touch of the Ebenezers or Grinches this Christmas, there is a speedy cure.  Take yourselves off to Zinc’s panto and festive spirit will soon be restored.  It’s an absolute tonic.

© Wendy Pike (December 2016)

(this review feature was previously published in The Brentwood Gazette)


Zinc believes in empowerment. The charity works in the local community and nationally, aiming to inspire people through the arts and education, raise aspirations and develop and promote new talent. Zinc believes that providing opportunities for everyone, regardless of background, to discover and fulfil their potential will lead to a more rounded, happy and inclusive society.

Forest School Fun With The Endeavour School

By Wendy Pike

Pupils in Drake class absolutely love Monday mornings.  It’s Forest School day.  Switching the classroom and formal lessons for structured activities and games in the woods, these Endeavour School pupils start their week, whatever the weather, at Forest School in nearby Thriftwood. Ask any one of them and they’ll tell you it’s enormous fun.

“Forest school is the best. We do fun activities. I like to cook marshmallows. We made a face out of leaves. I made a face sticking their tongue out,” said Chloe in Year 6.

Classmate Morgan said: “I like everything about forest school. I like drinking hot chocolate and when we play a game, Deer and Wolves.”

Among the subjects chosen by pupils for their woodland leaf-art creations were numerous rabbits, a disco ball and an angry man. Star Wars characters Darth Vader and Luke Sywalker made an appearance too.

“They’re learning about team working. We’ve done art without them realising and there’s been lots of conversation and social interaction, which is really nice,” said class teacher Miss Jodie Messenger.

Anthony Hattam, Deputy Headteacher believes Forest School has much to offer.

“The children can run though the woods. They’re not in any danger, they’re completely safe.

“It’s just a great experience for them all rather than sitting at a desk all day long and I think they learn just as much by these experiences.”

Forest School - fun learning through play and exercise

Woodland adventures

Who wouldn’t want to start the week with a walk in the woods, playing games, enjoying the fresh air? But isn’t Forest School just simply playtime?

“They love being outside and just playing. That’s what they see it as. But outside, they don’t realise they are actually learning.

“In the classroom they can feel learning is quite forced whereas at Forest School, Mr Jackson’s here as well and I’m not the teacher, so we get a different relationship,” said Miss Jodie Messenger, Drake class teacher.

Leading Drake class’ Forest School adventure is former primary school teacher of 25 years John Jackson of Billericay Bushcraft.

“It’s more than playing because they’re learning all the time.

“They’re learning about different animals and how to interact with nature but also loads of scientific evidence proves that being outside in green areas like the woods is really good for your mental health,” said John, also known as Grizzly.

Everyone has adopted a Forest School name. On Mondays the Drake class register reads duck, eagle, snake and tiger, to name a few.

Serpent aka Vinnie said: “I kinda like the creatures around here and how we can do stuff in the forest.”

Joyful shouts, chatter and laughter. Rustling leaves and twigs snapping underfoot. These noises contribute to the forest soundtrack of the children playing a game.

“They’re learning hiding and camouflage techniques and teamwork but they’re learning all sorts of stuff about how animals would interact in the wild.

“We link a lot of the games to animals. We play a game like rock paper scissors but it’s called Salmon, Fly, Mosquito, so they learn about what eats what in the food chain. It gives them a bit more of an experience than just playing a game,” said Grizzly (aka John).

“When they first come into the woods, they go off to their own quiet spot and actually listen. They’re properly engaging with their senses – smells, sights sounds, feeling the wood, how different it feels. They all come back and share what they’ve done.

“It helps them to understand the seasons,” said learning support assistant Tansy ‘Tawny Owl’ Cook.

Grizzly added: “As the spring comes we’ll be looking at plants growing up and maybe find some edible plants which we’ll teach them about. As we get into the start of summer we’ll be looking at the bugs and animals that are around.”

Forest School & wonders of the natural world

The great outdoors

As well as learning about the natural world and keeping fit, what do the children get out of Forest School? Well they’re building confidence and resilience, learning teamwork, social skills, communication, co-operation, practical bushcraft skills (the list goes on) … and the children have a great time.

“The biggest thing they’ll get from this is confidence because all the activities are designed to be small, simple, achievable. And they learn resilience.

“Sometimes they’ll find things hard. We need firewood, so we have to go out and find it. It isn’t just given to them like a lot of the stuff in the modern world is.

“So they found sawing the wood quite tricky to start with but then they have to apply themselves and learn it. Nothing’s too difficult but a lot of things won’t be easy to do straight away. If they fail in the forest, what does it matter? Try again next time,” added Grizzly.

“A lot of the children just cannot do this where there live. Some don’t have access to country parks and woods.

“I think it’s great. I think all schools should be able to have the freedom and luxury to be able to do this,” added Mr Hattam.

Chloe ‘caterpillar’ concluded: “This is the best day of my life and there’s hot chocolate!”

For Ride class, Monday afternoons, when it’s their turn to enjoy Forest School, are the best.

© Wendy Pike November 2016

This feature was previously published in The Brentwood Gazette.

The Endeavour School Brentwood