2017 was the Year of the Co‑operative Pub. We saw a big growth in demand for finance from communities wanting to take ownership and control of their local assets, especially pubs. Just over three-quarters of the finance we released in 2017 went to 10 community benefit societies involved in pubs and hospitality.
More Than A Pub
The growth of the co-operative pub sector has been accelerated by the More Than A Pub programme, which was set up in 2016. The programme is funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (formerly the Department for Communities and Local Government) and Power to Change, and is delivered by the Plunkett Foundation. Co-operative & Community Finance and the Key Fund arrange loan finance for groups that have successfully attracted local investment, usually in the form of community shares.
At the end of the year there were 60 co‑operative pubs open for business in England and Wales and a further 180 community groups were actively pursuing the prize of pub ownership. The More Than A Pub programme has been extended to March 2019.
The opening of the 50th co-operative pub in the UK, the Craufurd Arms in Maidenhead, attracted widespread national publicity. The opening of every new co‑operative pub is the cause of celebration and comment locally.
Five of the pubs we lent to in 2017 are relatively close to each other, in Suffolk and Essex. It seems that the idea of community ownership spreads by local example. There are also 20 community-owned shops within 50 miles of this cluster.
The Lamarsh Lion on the Essex/Suffolk border is a typical example. This historic village inn, that is reputed to have been frequented by the artists Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable, was bought in July 2017 by a community benefit society of 320 members.
Lamarsh is a tiny village (population 180) about 10 miles north west of Colchester. The Lamarsh Lion is the only pub, and indeed the only public facility serving the villages of Lamarsh and Alphamstone, so there was dismay when it closed in May 2016 and was put up for sale. The dismay turned to action when the vendors applied for planning permission for change of use to residential premises. The application was withdrawn after the council received 127 letters of objection and the pub was listed as an Asset of Community Value. The parish council set up a community benefit society to buy the pub.
The community share issue for the Lamarsh Lion, which allowed people to invest as little as £50, raised over £350,000. With the grant from More Than A Pub, the loan from Co-operative & Community Finance, and a private loan, this was enough to proceed.
Redgrave, near Diss, is a picturesque village of some 260 houses, many of which, including the Cross Keys, are listed buildings. The pub looks onto the village green with an ancient oak tree and a duck pond.
For number of years the Cross Keys had been suffering from neglect – an all too familiar problem – so when the owners announced their intention to sell the pub in April 2017 local people acted quickly. They held a public meeting, conducted a survey to determine what people wanted from their pub, set up a community benefit society and started a colourful campaign to raise funds using the catchphrase ‘Don’t Lose The Keys’. The community share issue raised over £210,000 from 230 investors. They collected the keys to the Cross Keys in November and opened the doors of their community-owned pub for just a few hours on 23 December for pre-Christmas drinks.
Other lending for pubs and hospitality
Not all of the support we provided was part of the More Than A Pub programme. We made loans to Holbrook Community Society in Derbyshire, which owns the Spotted Cow, and Great Oakley Community Hub in Essex, which owns the Maybush Inn.
We had helped the people of Great Oakley to buy the Maybush Inn in 2016. Emboldened by their success they wanted to do more, and turned their attention to the large empty house and garden next door. They drew up plans for converting the ground floor into a restaurant and the first floor into three flats to provide affordable rented accommodation. They held a second community share issue. Most existing members increased their investment and over 30 new members joined the society.
We also invested directly in two share issues, using a specialist fund managed by Co-operative & Community Finance. One of these was the Northumberland Arms in Marple Bridge near Stockport which had to raise funds quickly in order to complete the purchase. The other was Llety Arall in Caernarfen, North Wales. We helped this community benefit society to buy a large building in the centre of the historic town which it intends to convert into a visitor/community centre with B&B accommodation. The project is specifically designed to celebrate the Welsh language and culture.
[Picture caption: Official opening of The King’s Head, Pebmarsh, Essex (courtesy of Roger Cuthbert)]