Village pub gives housing plan the boot

The people of a small village in rural Herefordshire are eagerly awaiting the re-opening of their pub after they saved it from redevelopment and secured its future by buying it for the local community. With the substantial renovation nearly finished [writing at 23 August 2019] and the tenants installed, The Boot Inn at Orleton near Ludlow is expected to start selling beer (locally brewed, of course) and serving food in the next few weeks.

“We are planning to re-open slowly and make sure we have got everything right before we hold a big celebration,” said John Alderman, the chair of the community benefit society that now owns the pub.

The Boot Inn is an attractive black-and-white timber-framed building that dates back to the 17th century when it was once three shops, including a cobblers (hence the name). The pub building is grade II listed and in the large garden there is a more ancient structure reputed to be the smallest dwelling in Herefordshire that was still occupied 50 years ago. The new community owners plan to make this into a mini museum.

The pub had once been the happy heart of the village but more recently had been neglected by the last owner who wanted to redevelop the whole site (over half an acre) for housing. It closed in June 2017.

The villagers frustrated the plans by having the pub declared an Asset of Community Value. After seeking advice from various organisations and other community-owned pubs, they set up a community benefit society to raise investment via a community share issue to buy and renovate The Boot Inn. The purchase was completed in January 2019.

The substantial renovation has included the roof, kitchen, bar, living accommodation, electrics, plumbing, and a new wheelchair accessible front entrance.

The tenants appointed to run the business are Chris and Hollie Thorpe, who both have extensive experience in catering and hospitality. Chris used to manage The Boot Inn when it was a successful venture and is well liked in the village.

John Alderman said: “We have saved our local pub and secured its future. In a small rural village like Orleton the pub can be a significant employer and can provide opportunities for young people. I’m pleased to say that Chris and Hollie are creating one full-time and 12 part-time jobs.”

Ian Rothwell, Investment Manager for Co-operative & Community Finance, said: “The purchase, renovation and reopening of The Boot Inn is a big project and we were happy to provide part of the finance needed in the form of a loan. I visited when the renovation work was just starting. It’s a lovely old pub, with outbuildings and a large garden. You could see it has plenty of potential. Also, it is very reassuring to know that it has been run successfully in the past by the very same person who is going to be the new tenant.”

The community share issue has so far raised over £325,000 from 283 investors. In addition, the community received advice. a grant and a loan under the More Than A Pub programme which was set up in 2016 to support community ownership of pubs in England. This programme is funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Power to Change, and is delivered by Plunkett Foundation working in partnership with Co-operative & Community Finance and Key Fund. The society also received a separate grant from The Pub is the Hub.

[The photo shows the first work party assembled at The Boot Inn on 3 February 2019]