Villagers in the South Downs revive local pub as community business

The Blue Bell in Cocking, West Sussex, closed in 2017 but has been saved from the developers

Villagers in Cocking, West Sussex, have saved their only pub from being redeveloped as housing by forming a community benefit society and buying it as a local facility.

The Blue Bell has been a fixture in the South Downs village for more than 200 years but although it had been running successfully, offering good food and B&B accommodation, its tenant left in July 2017 after the landlord hiked up the rent.

After building was bought by a developer for conversion it into two houses, villagers – already fearing the loss of their post office and shop –  successfully opposed the planning application, conducted a survey and held public meetings to gather support for the community ownership of the Blue Bell.

It became clear that people didn’t just want to save the old pub: they wanted to create an inclusive community hub that provided a range of facilities.

The new Blue Bell will provide a warm welcome to all locals and visitors, walkers, cyclists, children and dogs. There will be reasonably priced pub food and a programme of music and other events. Part of the pub will be an information gateway for the South Downs National Park and gift shop with local arts and crafts. There will also be a small bicycle repair workshop.

Peter Gibbon, chair of Blue Bell Community Hub Ltd, said: “This has really brought the village together and got people from all walks of life talking to each other. One relatively recent new resident told me that she was thinking of moving because she didn’t know anyone and now she wants to stay.”

The building requires internal refurbishment and redesign, and the accommodation upstairs needs to be made suitable for a resident tenant, but the team hopes it will be open for business later this year.

Mr Gibbon added: “We are continuing with our fundraising efforts. The share offer remains open and people can still invest. We are also holding various events. And we will be drawing on some grants and pledges that we could not access until we owned the building.”

The community share issue has so far raised over £100,000 from 123 local investors. In addition, the community received advice. a grant and a loan under the More Than A Pub programme. which is funded by the government and Power to Change, and is delivered by Plunkett Foundation. Co-operative & Community Finance arranges loan finance for groups that have successfully attracted local investment, usually in the form of community shares.

Ian Rothwell, Investment Manager for Co-operative & Community Finance, said: “Cocking is quite a diverse village and it is pleasing to see that the group has worked hard to include all sectors of the community. It is also great that South Downs National Park has come on board with a significant investment.”

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