Running a Community Pub

15 March 2021 - Elizabeth O'Hanlon

Many people dream of getting a group together to run their village pub – James Tucker, Business Advisory Partner did just that – and three years later it’s still going strong. 
 
One of the less publicised announcements of the recent Budget (indeed the Chancellor did not even mention it in his speech) was the launch of a new Community Ownership Fund which will allow community groups to bid for match funding of up to £250,000 to help them buy local assets to run as community-owned businesses.
 
I was particularly interested in this proposal, having been closely involved in the purchase of my own village pub by the community back in 2017, and will look forward to seeing the detail when published in June.
 
In September 2016 the landlords of the King’s Head in Pebmarsh had to shut the pub due to ill health. It was a sad chapter in the history of a pub that had been closed more than it had been open in recent years, but really was the heart of this small community.
 
Not long afterwards, one member of our community with knowledge of commercial property organised a village meeting at which he proposed the idea of raising enough money from the local community to buy the pub.  Many of us at the time (me included) felt that this was a bit of a far- fetched idea, even for a tight-knit community such as Pebmarsh.  Foolishly – having contributed a couple of ideas on the finance and tax front – I found myself co-opted onto the steering group of around 15 villagers trying to put something together.
 
Approximately 6 months later in a very fast turnaround, we had secured investment of over £300,000 from the community, including generous contributions from those who still had a connection to the village despite now living in the USA, Australia and other far flung destinations.  In addition, we had obtained a vital grant of £40,000 from the Plunkett Foundation who support similar community projects across the country and further funding from Essex County Council.
 
Another 6 months later, having stripped the 15 century drovers inn back (after wrestling with the Listed Building regulations) the building and gardens were in better condition than they had been for generations and in October 2017 it opened its doors once again.
 
Aside from the obvious restrictions that have been placed on the pub over the last year, it has traded very successfully, providing excellent food and dining, as well as space for those just wanting to socialise. Being owned by the community within a very financially secure Community Benefit Society means there are no eye-watering rents, and I am sure this situation will continue to be the case long after I have hung up my calculator.
 
We made the decision at a very early stage to follow an investment model whereby the community owns the building and lets the pub to tenants.  Whilst this model denied us various tax reliefs available to those actually running a pub (and may preclude a claim to the new fund – we shall have to see in June) this was the best decision we made, and allows us to ensure the building and grounds are maintained and improved, whilst leaving the business of running a pub, employing staff, turning out first rate food and maintaining good beer to the experts.

So, as I sit here, eagerly anticipating the first draught pint of Ghost Ship in a very long time, I hope the new fund will help more communities to do what we have done and secure a community hub for generations to come.  I would encourage those who are thinking about it to register with the Plunkett Foundation https://plunkett.co.uk who have all kinds of resources to help you get started.

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