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13th February 2023

Stonegate celebrates National Apprenticeship Week, announcing its Apprentice of the Year

PHOTO CAPTION: The training team with the apprentice of the year. (Left to right) Scott Napier, Jody Maxwell, Sandra Cookson, Rhona Symon and Mike Butler

Stonegate Group, the UK’s largest Pub Company, is celebrating its newly crowned ‘Apprentice of the Year’ during National Apprenticeship Week 2023.

2023’s winner, Sandra Cookson, is a shining example of the committed and personable apprentices that participate in Stonegate’s schemes, proving that hard-work and inspiration pay-off. On winning the accolade she said: “I am over the moon to have been crowned Apprentice of the Year, this is such a great surprise. I have learned so much through my apprenticeship and have had the opportunity to work with so many inspirational people. I cannot wait to see where my career with Stonegate takes me.”

Sandra was put forward for the award by Keystones in York and received a £100 gift voucher and a luxury hamper as prizes. She was also crowned with a bona-fide chef’s hat! Sometimes known as ‘the Queen of Keystones,’ Sandra has been with the business for over ten years and is a popular ambassador for the venue. You can hear more from this year’s winner on the company’s popular ‘Kitchen Sink’ podcast, available on iTunes and Spotify.

Jermaine Anderson from Calder, Brighouse and Edison Cacunago from Rocket, Canary Wharf were named runners-up and received bespoke chef’s jackets as prizes and tokens of appreciation from Stonegate.

Tim Painter, HR Director of Stonegate Group, said: “Many congratulations to Sandra, the winner of this year’s award. It is a huge achievement. It has been wonderful to read all the judges’ feedback about 2023’s cohort of apprentices – their work ethic, commitment, team-spirt and leadership have all been excellent.”

Stonegate has been celebrating National Apprenticeship Week in a variety of ways, including taking part in the Hospitality Apprenticeship Showcase on Wednesday 8th February in the House of Commons. The event, sponsored by Alun Cairns MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer-Group, saw leading companies from the pub, bar and leisure sectors exchange thoughts on the value of hospitality apprenticeships to kick-start rewarding careers and fuel talent within the industry.

Tim concluded: “Apprentices are an important part of the award-winning career pathway that helps us retain and promote talent. I am delighted that Stonegate has the highest achievement rate for apprentices in the pub sector and that over half of the colleagues who complete an apprenticeship then go on to study for a higher level.”


Stonegate Group Apprentice of the Year Top Ten Nominees:

  • Lindsey Clayton from The George Staples, Sidcup
  • Ashley Mellor from Gosta Green, Birmingham
  • Edison Cacunago from Rocket, Canary Wharf
  • Ciara Nile from the Swan, Lyndhurst
  • Katie Harling from the Slug & Lettuce, Huddersfield
  • Stuart Meek from Two Willson, Welwyn Garden City
  • Sandra Cookson from Keystones, York
  • Tom Foster from Tivoli, Cheltenham
  • Karl Whyte from Victoria Taps, Westminster
  • Jermaine Anderson from Calder, Brighouse


About Stonegate Group

Stonegate Group is the largest pub company in the UK.  Its portfolio is comprised of over 4,500 sites, split across the managed division and leased and tenanted businesses.

The managed pubs division, which employs over 16,000 people, is split into Branded and Traditional pubs. Branded is comprised of: Slug & Lettuce, Popworld, Be at One and Venues. Traditional (unbranded) pubs are made up of: Proper Pubs, Town Pub & Kitchen, Classic Pub & Dining, Social Pub & Kitchen and Craft Union.


  • Great British Pub Awards – Stonegate Group Pub Partners’ Pub of the Year, Best Pub to Watch Sport, Community Hero
  • BII’s National Innovation in Training Awards (NITAs): HR Manager of the Year (Jemelle Bish), Best Apprenticeship Training Programme (ATOP)
  • Publican Awards – Best Community Operator (Craft Union Pub Company)


  • Licensed Trade Charity Awards   raising awareness through fundraising
  • Great British Pub Awards – Stonegate Group Pub Partners’ Pub of the Year, Best Pub to Watch Sport
  • MCA Retailers’ Retailer Awards – The Hero Award (Suzanne Baker)


  • Great British Pub Awards – Feeding the Community, Community Mindfulness & Ei Publican Partnerships Pub of the Year
  • REBA Employee Wellbeing Awards – Best New Wellbeing Strategy (5000+ staff)
  • Publican Awards – Best Pub Employer (501+ employees)
  • Publican Awards – Best Community Operator (Craft Union Pub Company)


  • BII’s National Innovation in Training Awards (NITAs): HR Manager of the Year, Lee Woolley (2019); Best Managed Company for Training; Lifetime Achievement Award for Chairman, Ian Payne (2016)
  • CGA Insight Hero and Icon Awards (two awards): Icon Award   Ian Payne MBE, Business Leader, Simon Longbottom (2019)
  • UK Hospitality’s Dusk ‘til Dawn Late Night Awards (two awards) – Icon Award (Ian Payne MBE), Best Marketing and Promotions Award (2019);  Best Service & Team (2018)
  • Great British Pub Awards – Best LGBTQ+ Pub (2019); Best LGBTQ+ and Best Sports Pub (2018); Best Pub Garden, Best Entertainment and Best Sports Pub (2017); Best Sports Pub (2016);
  • BII Scotland Awards   Best Operator for Training (2019)
  • Retailers’ Retailer of the Year (two awards): Lifetime Achievement Award, Ian Payne MBE;  Investor of the Year   TDR Capital (2019); Investor of the Year: TDR Capital (2017)
  • Menu Innovation & Development Awards (MIDAS) (two awards): Best Menu, Premium High Street Pub: Slug & Lettuce; Best Menu, Town & City Pub: Walkabout (2019);  Premium High Street Pub: Town Pub & Kitchen (2017); Best New Concept:  Missoula, Montana Bar & Grill (2014); City and Bar Dining: Slug and Lettuce (2013)
  • Publican Awards (five awards): Best Community Pub Operator, Best Pub Employer (501+ employees), Best Managed Pub Company (51+ sites), Best Drinks Offer, Business Leader of the Year   Chief Executive, Simon Longbottom (2019); Best Late Night Operator (2018); Best Managed Pub Company; Best Late Night Operator, plus highly commended   Best Employer 501+ employees (2017);  Business Leader of the Year, Chairman Ian Payne (2014); Best Pub Employer 51+ sites (2013)
  • British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA)   Chairman’s Award (2018)
  • Licensed Trade Charity: Outstanding Corporate Contribution Award (2018)
  • APPBG PUBAID Corporate Charity Fundraiser Award (2018)
  • Scottish Training Federation: Best Large Employer  (2016)
  • HR Excellence Awards: Best Learning and Development Strategy (2016)
  • HR Distinction Awards: Innovation for Digital & Social Media (2016); People Development (2015); Innovative Use of Technology (2014)

Press release from Leisure PR.


Catherine Wiltshire


T: 07764 355189