HE’S the toast of regulars at a Hampshire pub after giving the once-ailing watering hole a new lease of life.

Since taking over five months ago Nick Williamson has spent £20,000 on improvements to the Anchor Inn, Eling, which is currently enjoying a surge in its popularity.

But the 41-year-old entrepreneur could lose his job and his home if talks with the pub’s owners break down.

Now customers at the quayside pub have launched a campaign to persuade Enterprise Inns to replace his existing agreement with a longterm tenancy.

They sprang into action after a banner saying “This Pub Could Be Yours” was unveiled by the company, which is holding an open day on March 25 in a bid to recruit a permanent landlord.

Customers have erected their own banners, which say “Support Your Local Pub” and “Locals Say No To Change”.

Campaigners include Jean Thorne, of Boothby Close, Eling, who said Nick had brought muchneeded stability to the pub.

She added: “It’s closed four times in the past six years but Nick took over last October and things started to change for the better. Now it’s packed every night.

“Customers include people we hadn’t seen in donkey’s years.

“Nick’s a good manager who really cares about the pub and the locals but our big fear is that he’s going to be squeezed out.”

Another regular said: “If Nick goes, everyone will start drifting away again.”

The popular publican told the Daily Echo: “People said no one came here in the winter but this winter was the busiest for seven years.

“We’ve got a very happy clientele, the lunch trade has really taken off and the pub’s reputation is going from strength to strength.

“As well as all the old faces we’re seeing a lot of new ones who come back time and again.

“The pub is bringing people together, just as it used to in the past.”

Nick confirmed that he had spent £20,000 on improvements to the business, adding that he had borrowed some of the cash.

But he is currently on a Tenancy At Will, a short-term agreement that entitles either side to give seven days’ notice, and is keen to negotiate new terms with Enterprise Inns.

A company spokesman said: “We continue to recruit for a publican to take on the full-time lease on this charming quayside pub.”