The UK’s community pub sector has another member after a Sheffield local was saved after a 12-month campaign by its regulars.
The future of the Gardeners Rest, in the suburb of Neepsend, was thrown into doubt after its owners, Eddy Munnelly and Pat Wilson announced their intention to sell up.
When regulars heard of this news, they set up a working committee, which led to a community benefit society, the Gardeners Rest Community Society, and raised more than £236,000 through a community share offer. More than 400 people invested between £100 and £5,000 to become society members – and democratic owners – of the pub.
The purchase went through with help from the More than a Pub Programme – a £3.6m programme funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and Power to Change – which offered advice on community engagement and setting up a co-operative, and a £50,000 grant.
Eight pubs have now completed the transition to community ownership thanks to More than a Pub project, a two-year project delivered by Plunkett Foundation.
Mark Powell, a driving force behind The Gardeners Rest Community Society, said: “We are delighted with the support that we have received and proud that more than 400 people have invested in the opportunity to preserve our unique, riverside local. We will do our best to provide good ale, fine art, live music and a first class friendly service. Everyone will be welcome at The Gardeners Rest.”
Nicole Hamilton, head of frontline at Plunkett, said: “We’re thrilled to see the community finally taking ownership of the Gardeners Rest after running it as leasehold since April. This will enable the Gardeners Rest Community Society Ltd to put their full plans in place and provide an important social space giving the community a sense of place and identity. We wish them every success.”
Jenny Sansom, programmes manager at Power To Change, said: “This is wonderful news. The Gardeners Rest will stay in the community, in the hands of the people who value it most. Crucially, the pub will now offer more than just pints. Local people will have space to hire for their own community events, and The Gardeners Rest will look to offer job opportunities to people in danger of slipping out of the workforce.”
Community pubs minister Jake Berry said: “Our great British pubs are the heart of many communities, providing thousands of jobs and boosting our economy by £21bn per year. I hope the residents of Neepsend will celebrate their success with a pint at the Gardeners Rest after securing its future through the More Than a Pub programme.”
The group has ambitious plans to develop the Gardeners Rest into a community hub with services and facilities beyond the traditional role of a local pub. Proposals include providing learning and employment opportunities to adults with learning disabilities and mental health issues. As well as introducing new services, they look set to ensure the Gardeners Rest continues to be a music venue with guest performers, as well as an activity centre and a place for local artists and photographers to exhibit their work.
Pubs saved in this way are viable and sustainable forms of businesses; ownership is widespread and democratic, and they tend to be run by full-time managers or tenants.