New year, new kitchen, new supportive finance

Significant building work to improve the facilities of a community-owned pub in rural Staffordshire is well underway, with support from Co-operative & Community Finance, Co-op Loan Fund, the Reach Fund and local grant providers.

The Royal Oak in Rushton Spencer, near Leek, which had closed after a period of neglect, was bought and re-opened by a community benefit society in 2015. The pub is run by a tenant and the rent generates a modest surplus for the society which is owned by nearly 160 local people who have bought shares. When they were first entitled to receive interest on their investment the members voted (at the AGM in 2018) that the money should be put towards improving the kitchen and toilet facilities.

Liz Austin, Secretary of Rushton Oak Community Pub Ltd, said: “For the last few years of commercial ownership the brewery had failed to invest in the building, and we were not going to make the same mistake. We were very aware that the kitchen facilities were inadequate and were limiting what the tenant could provide. Also, there was no wheelchair accessible toilet.”

The society decided to build an extension to provide an accessible toilet and increase the size of the kitchen. It spent much of last year developing a realistic plan to raise the finance needed.

Co-operative & Community Finance, which is an approved Access Point for the Reach Fund, helped the society to apply for a grant to cover the legal and professional fees. It also arranged loans from its own funds and Co-op Loan Fund. Both organisations had helped to fund the purchase in 2015.

Liz Austin said: “The builders started knocking down walls in the New Year and everything should be finished by the end of February. The new kitchen is going to allow us to greatly improve the quality and quantity of our food offer. Our tenant, Ollie Nock, is planning an exciting new menu with many vegan options.”

Tim Coomer, Business Development Manager at Co-operative & Community Finance, said: “I was very impressed by the passion of the board members and the tenant. They love their community pub and are determined that it will continue to succeed. By accessing the Reach Fund, Co-op Loan Fund and our own funds we have helped them finance a significant improvement in the pub facilities.”