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Stoke Ferry has been named Britain’s Best Neighbourhood after villagers saved The Blue Bell pub

Residents who saved their prized pub from closure have helped their village become ‘Britain’s Best Neighbourhood’.

Stoke Ferry has been awarded Nextdoor’s ‘Neighbourhood of the Year’ in recognition of its outstanding achievements in bringing the local community together after residents collectively purchased, and ultimately saved, its last standing pub, The Blue Bell.

The village was nominated by Stoke Ferry resident Lyn Juniper-Solley.

The Blue Bell in Stoke Ferry. Picture: Google Maps
The Blue Bell in Stoke Ferry. Picture: Google Maps

She wrote: “I’d like to nominate Stoke Ferry, West Norfolk. Our community came together to save the last pub in our village and make it more than a pub.

“The Blue Bell is now a community hub with volunteers hosting over 60s meals, arts and craft clubs, networking events, and more. It’s family and dog-friendly and has brought the community together.

“Neighbours in the village host sports events, and family fun days, and help those feeling the pressure access grants.

Stoke Ferry has been named the ‘Neighbourhood of the Year’
Stoke Ferry has been named the ‘Neighbourhood of the Year’

“I’ve seen many selfless acts from my neighbours. It’s a beautiful, friendly, supportive, community and I’m very proud to live here.”

The historic pub, The Blue Bell, was a cornerstone of village life since 1794 but closed in March 2018, facing the threat of being bought and converted into housing by developers.

It was instead purchased by 400 residents in June 2021 after a series of fundraisers, marking a significant victory for community resilience.

Since its resurrection, The Blue Bell has become a hub of activity for the residents of Stoke Ferry, hosting events such as open mic nights, craft clubs, beer and cider festivals, and much more, bringing the community together in more ways than one.

Despite only having ten main tables – and an extra four in a small annex room – the popularity of these events often sees the pub-café booking more than 100 covers, as it did for this year’s Mother’s Day event, where each mum walked away with a handmade gift courtesy of the volunteers.

The team’s 35 volunteers, including nine committee members, work hard to reach every member of the community through their events, hosting cheap lunches for over 60s on a Thursday, and creating opportunities for local bands to play for their customers.

Committee member Debbie Stewart is behind most of these events and is delighted by the ways in which The Blue Bell has been able to bring people together.

Debbie moved to Stoke Ferry from London ten years ago and struggled to find her place in the community at first.

She said: “For the first six years of living here, we only really knew the chap next door.

“I had friends in Cambridge, so I’d often get the train to visit them, but I didn’t know anyone in the local area.

“Since we started volunteering at The Blue Bell, we seem to know everybody.

“In fact, I remember one day we were sitting in the pub garden and so many people were coming over to chat and ask questions, my daughter turned to me and said, ‘Mum, I think I preferred it when you didn’t know anyone’.”

Debbie has now formed strong friendships with the regulars at The Blue Bell, and often spends time with them outside of her volunteering, from board game nights and dinner parties to even going on holiday together - with another planned for later this year.

She added: “It’s a lifeline for a lot of people. I hated my first year living here at the time, not knowing anyone, but now I wouldn’t change it for anything.

“I’ve met so many people from different backgrounds, with different stories, that I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for The Blue Bell.

“You learn things about people and find things you have in common – it’s really pulled everyone together.”

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