The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, November 2, 2018
It seems like there is never a month that goes by without me being contacted by someone worried about their local pub closing, and asking me what I can do to save it.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic wand, and enthusiasm often evaporates when the questioner is invited along to a meeting to discuss ideas.
The truth is that it is not an easy task to save a pub in danger of closure, as is suggested by the oft quoted figure that around 18 pubs in the country close every week.
However, with a lot of hard work, the task can be accomplished. One of the ways is by taking them into community ownership.
CAMRA is aware of around 120 pubs in the country that have been rescued by this method, including four in Norfolk: the Fox at Garboldisham, the King’s Arms at Shouldham, the White Horse at Upton and the Pavilion at Hindringham, with the Crown at Northwold aiming to become the fifth.
It seems a daunting task to embark on. Step one is probably to apply for an Asset of Community Value listing for your pub.
Although the law has changed and any change of use for a pub now needs planning permission, an ACV allows a six month period for the group that applied for the listing to make a bid for the property.
At one time the local CAMRA branch could apply, but this is no longer the case, and you will need a group of around 23 local people to sign the application.
This can, and maybe should be, considered for a pub at any time, rather than waiting until it is threatened.
I was contacted by one person who informed me that he had been told by his parish councillor that an application was not possible, as the pub had been recently sold, but I disagree, I think that it can be done at any time.
Other help is available. CAMRA have produced a guide, available online with lots of useful information: https://pubs.camra.org.uk/communityownedpubs
The Plunkett Foundation also can provide lots of help and some small grants, and can be found at http://www.plunkett.co.uk/, and there are several other organisations that can provide help and funds for the task.
These include Community Shares, Locality, the Architectural Heritage Fund, the Big Lottery Fund and the Public Works Loan Board.
All the website addresses are listed in the CAMRA guide mentioned above or a simple web search should provide the details.
There is no single model for the process. While many of these pubs have been bought by a community group, several have been leased from the owner, either a company or an individual, and are run by the community, so if you are interested it may be worth contacting the owners of the property and seeing if a deal of this type can be agreed.
It is not the case that the day to day running of the premises needs to be done by volunteers.
We have all seen how enthusiasm wanes as the months pass, and employing a competent and experienced manger is worthy of serious consideration.
The success of the King’s Arms down in Shouldham seems to have been greatly aided by Ian and his team as well as the enthusiasm of the volunteers.
So if you are serious about preserving your local, start before there is a threat.
By all means contact me, but be aware that I cannot do the job for you. I can however, point you in the right direction and give you the benefit of my experience.