A 400-year-old village inn that had been closed since September 2016 has become the seventh co-operative pub in a cluster of community ownership in the counties of Essex and Suffolk. On 29 June 2017 The Kings Head at Pebmarsh near Halstead was bought by a community benefit society of 320 members.
There are now over 50 co-operative pubs in England and Wales with a notable cluster in Essex and Suffolk. There are also over 20 community-owned village shops within 50 miles of the Kings Head.
Pebmarsh is a small village (population 570) in a rural area that includes several smaller hamlets. The Kings Head is the only pub and there was dismay when it was closed and put up for sale by the private owners who had retired following ill health. A number of local people formed the Friends of the Kings Head group with the aim of re-opening it as a community-owned pub.
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 Kings Head, which allowed people to invest as little as £50 (or as much as £20,000), raised over £275,00. With the grant from More Than A Pub, and the loan from Co-operative & Community Finance, this was enough to proceed with the purchase of the pub which was completed on 29 June 2017. The Kings Head will re-open after some essential repairs have been carried out and there will be an opening event over the August public holiday weekend.
Following a comprehensive survey of the local community wishes and requirements, there are plans for the Kings Head to include a café and a shop selling essential items. It will also offer a range of drop-in services such as reading, craft and computer clubs in addition to hosting outreach services including a library bus and blood donation bus.
John Flack, Chairman of Pebmarsh Community Pub Limited, said: “We have realised our dream of purchasing the Kings Head on behalf of the community, with more than 320 shareholders who really care about saving this prized community asset. Most of our shareholders are local but we have also attracted investment from as far as USA, Australia and New Zealand, from people who remembered the pub from their time in the village and wanted to help. I am astonished by the support we have had.”
Tim Coomer, Business Development Manager of Co-operative & Community Finance, said: “There has been a surge of interest in the community ownership of pubs and shops and the Kings Head at Pebmarsh is a very good example. There’s a strong group of people actively involved and they have very good support in the local community. I have been really impressed by the speed and determination of all those involved.”