The number of pubs around continues to decrease, and there are few West Norfolk villages around with more than one left, but is the tide beginning to turn? One of the great attractions of village life is the local pub and along with the church and village hall it is one of the few places where the community can come together, so the closure of the last pub in a village is a major blow to the local inhabitants. Occasionally someone appears who can see the potential of a closed pub and take it on. An example is the Black Swan at Little Dunham, near Swaffham that had been dark for several years, but reopened its doors on the 5th November. Once run by William Nelson, the great uncle of Horatio Nelson, the current owners are Richard and Nicola Ward who have transformed the old building into a café and bar. As with most pubs these days, there is more on offer than just pints of beer, and the café with its tea, coffee and Panini attracts local community groups during the day as well as those interested in the book exchange scheme.
However not every village is lucky enough to have a white knight to rescue their pub so they have tried to take on pubs themselves. The great success story in our local area is, of course, the Kings Arms at Shouldham and much has been written about this excellent pub over the last year or two. It is not alone. In Garboldisham, between Thetford and Diss, the Fox had been closed for almost 10 years, but after two years hard work, it has been bought by the Garboldisham Fox Community Interest Company. There is much to do, but it is due to open as a micro pub at weekends from the beginning of December while work continues to refurbish the rest of the building, working towards full opening in a couple of years.
There are also a couple of other schemes in the pipeline. The Ploughshare at Beeston has an active group working to save the pub and they have had a fundraising drive which, according to their website brought in a total of almost £70,000 from 134 investors in just 70 days. This will allow them to access grants to top up the fund and hopefully they will be able to purchase the building and car park. More information about their plans can be found at http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/beeston-ploughshare. I have also been contacted by Anne at North Pickenham on behalf of a group trying to save the Blue Lion. This is another pub that has been closed for several years and the community have raised a substantial sum of money towards purchasing the building. Fundraising efforts continue and the latest event is a sponsored head shave. You can find out more at http://www.thepickenhams.com/.
So, is your local under threat? You may not know until it closes, as was proved by the events at the Lord Nelson at Burnham Thorpe. Your first step should be to apply for the premises to be listed as an Asset of Community Value, which gives a community group the first chance to purchase the premises if they come onto the market. This can be done anytime and the listing lasts for 5 years. There are numerous groups who can offer help and advice, CAMRA, the Plunkett Foundation and The Pub is the Hub are all worth checking out. It won’t be straightforward, but it is possible to save your pub. It will also create community links, and might even be fun.