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New twist in Stoke Ferry pub campaign after applicant appeals decision

The fight to save a West Norfolk village’s last pub has taken a new twist after developers lodged an appeal against the rejection of plans to turn it into a private house.

The challenge comes after borough councillors refused to grant permission for the Blue Bell Inn site at Stoke Ferry in December.

News of the move came as campaigners hailed the enthusiasm of residents following a public meeting last night to discuss ways to save their village pub.

The Blue Bell Inn which villagers are trying to save from housing plans
The Blue Bell Inn which villagers are trying to save from housing plans

More than 30 people attended the meeting in Stoke Ferry Village Hall to discuss potential future uses of the pub, which has been shut for nearly two years.

Stephen Ward and Sandra McNeill are leading a team to fight for the pub’s survival in what was the second open meeting in the space of two months.

The campaign group, called Save the Blue Bell, are applying for a community grant from the Plunkett Foundation with a sum of £200,000 needing to be sourced from the community for the freehold property.

Mr Ward said a survey will be sent out to all 600 villagers which will help with the application to the Plunkett Foundation.

The meeting heard of similar success at Northwold, where a campaign group was set up in the summer of 2017 to save The Crown Inn before it was eventually sold to new owners.

Mr Ward said: “We need to take steps now to secure the pub so it remains a pub. This may be as a community business or with a private owner.

“There is a lot of support for the pub. We prefer a private owner but if they do not come forward we need to look at other ways.”

The group hope to re-secure the pub as an asset of community value (ACV). It was listed last May but subsequently de-listed.

Campaigners are looking to sell shares to the community in a bid to save the pub.

Mr Ward said £200,000 would have to be raised fairly quickly as efforts are stepped up to secure the future of the pub.

He told the meeting that borough councillor Tom Ryves has been offering advice and support over funding.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Ward said he is feeling optimistic after pledges of practical support, which includes a team of volunteers for a pop-up pub.

On the importance of the campaign, he added: “Without a pub, Stoke Ferry is losing a hub for the community where people can come together to meet their neighbours, celebrate and plan other things. It creates identity.”

And Sandra McNeill added: "There has been an amazing response tonight. I was expecting a lot less but it's been a call to arms.

"We thought we would get 15 to 20 people and we have got double that so it's really great.

"There is a lot of work to do and we need to talk to the community to find out what they want from the pub, whether they want to get involved, if they want to support it and in terms of what other facilities they would like to see.

"It is more than just a pub. It can provide local services such as prescription pick-ups, and its a community hub where people can get together and socialise.

"Traditionally, it's always been the heart of the village so we have to keep that heart beating."

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