A charming 200-year-old red brick building on a village green in rural Kent has become the latest co-operative pub in England. On 22 June 2017 The Harrow in Stockbury near Sittingbourne was bought from the brewery by a community benefit society of nearly 150 members.
The people of Stockbury moved quickly when they learned last September that Shepherd Neame brewery intended to sell the only pub in the village. They succeeded in having The Harrow listed as an Asset of Community Value. They held a public meeting, conducted a local survey and prepared a social impact report. They then set about the complex tasks of setting up a community benefit society, business planning and raising finance.
The group received specialist advice and finance from the More Than A Pub programme, which was set up in 2016 to support community ownership of pubs in England. This two-year programme is funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and Power to Change, and is delivered by the Plunkett Foundation. Co-operative & Community Finance arranges loan finance for groups that have successfully attracted local investment, usually in the form of community shares.
The community share issue for The Harrow opened in March 2017 and soon raised £184,000 from 142 people investing sums between £200 and £20,000. With the grant from More Than A Pub, the loan from Co-operative & Community Finance, and some private loans this was enough to proceed with the purchase and refurbishment of the pub.
The refurbishment will include a new kitchen, new furniture, new flooring, rewiring and redecoration. The work will start in July and should be completed within a month, during which the pub will stay open as much as possible. The new co-operative owners are advertising for a tenant to run The Harrow who they hope will be installed by the time the refurbishment is complete.
Alastair Crawford, Treasurer of the community benefit society that has bought The Harrow, said: “We don’t like to be critical but the pub had become very run down in recent years. The local community has got fully involved in the plans to refurbish it, and some 50 volunteers are providing practical help. We believe that run as a free house and with the active support of local people The Harrow will be a sustainable venture and a hub of the community.”
Tim Coomer, Business Development Manager of Co-operative & Community Finance, said: “We are very pleased to arrange finance for another co-operative pub. Working with partners and local communities to support community ownership is one of our key priorities.”