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‘Save our pub’ campaign gets under way in West Norfolk village

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Villagers at Foulden are rallying round to try to buy and re-open their former pub and make it the hub of the community again.

As well as pulling pints, they have ideas for the White Hart to provide a shop, a cafe, an online pick-up point, a meeting place and, maybe, a library, post office and centre of carers to get together.

Now their venture has received a major boost with Breckland Council agreeing that the pub should be officially listed as a community asset.

Action group chairman Stephen Ward (centre) with fellow campaigners outside the empty White Hart
Action group chairman Stephen Ward (centre) with fellow campaigners outside the empty White Hart

Stephen Ward, chairman of the White Hart Inn Community Action Group, said: “This is an important step towards our goal and towards blocking a planning application which has been submitted to change the pub into housing.”

The White Hart closed in 2019 and is currently advertised for sale with an asking price of around £290,000.

“Our only village shop closed about 20 years ago, we lost our school, the church is hanging on by a thread and we don’t want to stop the pub going the same way.” said Mr Ward.

They are encouraged by a similar situation at Shouldham where villagers saved the King’s Arms from closure in 2017 and have built up a flourishing award-winning business.

The application to Breckland Council pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for a strong local hub to co-ordinate essential services for the village.

Now that the Foulden campaigners have persuaded the council that the White Hart is important enough to be listed as a community asset they hope to have it revalued and to submit a bid.

They have already raised £25,000 and are confident they can source the rest from grant aid and from selling shares to the public.

“It is not going to be easy but I am confident we can do it one way or the other,” said Mr Ward.

Committee secretary, Luc D’lorio, said that although Foulden is a small village, plans have been approved for 22 starter homes and villages nearby, including Cockley Cley and Barton Bendish where pubs are currently closed because of Covid.

He pointed out that at neighbouring Northwold, villagers raised £100,000 to buy their public house. Although it was eventually bought and reopened by a private purchaser and the money refunded to the residents, it underlined the demand for village pubs.

He said that the White Hart is now standing empty . “It is sad. It is like the Marie Celeste in there,” he said.

When the White Hart went up for sale the first step was to set up a community action group which was supported by villagers. Now a limited company has been elected to carry on with the negotiations with 18 months to see the project through.

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