Thursday, 12 September 2013

The communities that are saving the Great British Pub

According to the new Good Beer Guide pubs up and down the country are being saved from closure by an unlikely method – they’re being bought by the customers they once served, one of whom is celebrity chef Raymond Blanc.

The Good Beer Guide 2014, published by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) today, highlights the way in which pub lovers are using the new Localism Act to list their local as an “Asset of Community Value”. This means that once a pub is listed, it can’t be sold or turned into flats or a supermarket without the community’s permission and they are given six months to raise the money themselves to purchase the pub.

The Guide highlights three case histories of how pubs have been saved by locals. Guide editor Roger Protz comments: “The determined action to save these three pubs shows the depth of feeling there is to save locals in different parts of the country, with different customer bases, that are community assets. Pubs don’t have to close: they can be saved for future generations to enjoy.”

Protz added: “The pub is so deeply rooted in our history, culture and folklore that people who treasure their locals and want to enjoy a good pint are banding together to save pubs threatened with closure. As well as those which have purchased their local there are now 100 pubs across the UK that have been listed as assets of community value – which ensures the local community has the option to buy, should the pub be under threat in the future.”

The Bull in the village of Great Milton, Oxfordshire

One pub that has been saved and re-opened as a co-operative is the Bull in the village of Great Milton in Oxfordshire. It was put up for sale by brewer Greene King in 2012 and this prompted swift action by the 300 residents – one of whom was celebrity chef Raymond Blanc, whose Michelin-starred restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons is based in Great Milton.

The community were determined to save the Bull as they had lost three other pubs in the village – the Bell, the King’s Head and the Red Lion - meaning The Bull was the only remaining pub for the community. Dating from 1684 The Bull is a Grade-II listed, thatched building, overlooking the village green.

The Bulls’ loyal customers formed the Great Milton Community Pub Ltd, set up as an Industrial and Provident Society that received both a grant and support from the Plunkett Society. £250,000 was raised – including a donation from Raymond Blanc who is now a shareholder in the pub – and the sale was completed in April 2013, just 145 days after Greene King had put it on the market.

Raymond Blanc had this to say: “I am pleased to support a much-needed village amenity. Finding the right landlord who can create a welcoming ambiance is key. With so many villagers providing financial support they obviously appreciate the need for a successful pub.”

Steve Harrod, the chairman of the co-operative, who ironically lives in the former Red Lion, said: “Our motivation is to run the Bull as a traditional village pub with quality food. It will be retained as a community asset for future generations. It’s also popular with guests at Le Manoir, who want a pint in a nice pub.”

The Ivy House in Nunhead, South London

The Ivy House in Nunhead, south London, was under threat of closure by giant pub company Enterprise Inns in 2013 - the pubco wanted to sell the Ivy House to a property developer, who planned to turn it into apartments. But the pub was loved by locals - it not only served good beer and food but was an important music venue where the likes of Elvis Costello, Dr Feelgood and Ian Dury had performed.

A steering group, including lawyer Tess Blunden who is an expert in real estate litigation, was set up to save the Ivy House. The local branch of CAMRA won a Grade-II listing for the pub from English Heritage and then the Steering Group won a further listing from Southwark Council, which declared it to be a community asset.

Enterprise Inns was blocked and couldn’t sell the building. Tessa Blunden and her group registered the Ivy House as a limited company and then set about raising £810,000 to buy the site. The money was raised with a loan of £550,000 from the Architectural Heritage Fund along with a grant of £450,000 from the Social Investment Business Group.

A further £100,000 was needed to refurbish and bring the pub up to modern standards. This was achieved by turning the limited company into a co-operative, with supporters becoming shareholders. The share offer closed on 31 May this year and the enthusiasm for the project can be measured by the fact that a total of £144,500 was raised, with 53 applications on the final day. The pub reopened in August and serves real ale from a number of small breweries in the London area.

The Fox & Goose in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

At Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, Julia Warren, the publican of the Fox & Goose, was determined her pub would not be sold to a national pub company when she was forced to retire on health grounds. The pub dates from the 1330s when it was an illegal ale house known as a “Tiddlywink”, and became a legal inn in the 17th century and flourished in modern times, winning several awards from the local CAMRA branch, including its Pub of the Year trophy in 2006.

100 people packed into the pub in January 2013 to discuss how to save it and locals immediately offered to raise £8,200 towards the cost of buying the pub. A steering group, Friends of the Fox & Goose, was set up and it sought advice from the Plunkett Foundation, which advises people on how to save such local assets as village shops.

The major breakthrough came when Calderdale Council listed the Fox & Goose as a community asset under the terms of the Localism Act. This gave the steering group the right to make the first bid for the pub, with six months to raise the necessary money. It turned itself into the Fox & Goose (Hebden Bridge) Ltd, a co-operative or, in legal terms, an Industrial and Provident Society. A share offer was launched on 1 May with the aim of raising £130,000. Councillor Dave Young, who chairs the Fox & Goose Ltd, said when the share offer was launched: “The co-op is no longer a dream -- it’s a reality and exciting opportunity. Friends of the Fox believe this is a viable proposition to save a well-loved local and retain it for the community.”

On 8 August the Friend of the Fox announced they had reached their target and slightly overshot it by raising £131,320.

The Good Beer Guide 2014 is available to purchase from here.