The co-operative pub is well and truly open for business. While conventional pubs close at a rate of one every four days, there are more of the community owned kind than ever before.
Over the last two years, the rise of the co-op pub has been phenomenal. The 21st of the current crop, the Rose and Crown in Slayley, Northumberland, opened its doors on 2 August. And there are more waiting in the wings.
In Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, the Fox and Goose is approaching its fundraising target, as is the Anglers Rest in Bamford, Derbyshire, which is one of the busiest parts of the Peak District National Park. The Ivy House, Nunhead, is preparing to open as the London’s first community-owned pub, and the first registered as an asset to the community under the ‘community right to bid’ element of the Localism Act.
The local community has raised £850,000 to reopen the Ivy House. Along with the Bell Inn in Bath, the UK’s 20th co-op pub, which raised over £780,000 through its share issue, it represents a new scale of community investment in large, high value, city centre pubs.
Dave Hollings, Director of Co-operative Mutual Solutions, who advised nine out of the current 21 pub co-ops, says the idea really caught on in mid-2011. “From 2003 to 2009 not much happened, but a number of factors came together in 2009-11 which made a difference,” he says. “The financial crisis made it harder for individuals to buy pubs from under the nose of communities, and there was increased interest in alternative business models and increased experience of community share issues.
“There were a growing number of examples with enthusiastic champions. The Co-operative Enterprise Hub was funded across the country by the Co-operative Group and Plunkett Foundation helped to make the movement national.”
Thanks to all this, co-operative ownership has become an increasingly popular solution for pubs under threat. David Cameron mentioned them in his speech as leader of the G8, and the Bell Inn received backing from Glastonbury organiser Michael Eavis and rock gods Robert Plant and Peter Gabriel.
Each pub is different. The Bell Inn is a community of musicians and music lovers. Meanwhile the first co-operative pub in Wales, Tafarn y Fic, has become a cultural and community centre for its area, and is famous for its Welsh music nights. The late Gwyn Plas, who was instrumental in establishing this particular co-op, is remembered through the Gwyn Plas heritage trail, which starts at the pub.
When the community took ownership of the Fic in 1988 it was not a viable business. The building had deteriorated and the resources at the co-op’s disposal were scant. Thanks in part to Objective One grants, it reopened in 2004 complete with a new roof, an extension which tripled its size, a community room, computer equipment, a new kitchen and disabled facilities. The co-op now manages the pub, and ploughs its profits back into the community.
At the George and Dragon in Hudswell, North Yorkshire, part of the pub gardens have been turned into community allotments and part of the bar is now a shop, which is run by a separate co-operative.
Peter Couchman, Chief Executive of Plunkett Foundation, says: “This community didn’t think they could save the pub, and now they’ve really bought into the co-operative way of doing things. The pub allows the shop to use part of the bar. It’s the smallest shop we work with at 10ft by 9.8ft.
“After they’d made a success of the pub, the community started thinking, ‘what else can we do co-operatively?’ People are taking the co-operative vision to heart.”
Mr Couchman considers co-operative pubs as community hubs. “Co-operative pubs are all about a community deciding what they want their pub to be, and only a community can decide that,” he says. “They’re all very different but they all have a feeling of community.
“It’s a form of co-op everybody gets excited about. We’ve never lost a co-op pub, in an industry that’s struggling.” This May the Campaign for Real Ale reported that on average four pubs were closing each day in the UK. The rate of closures had risen during the previous six months from 18 to 26 per week, it said.
Jackie Stubbs, tenant-host of the George and Dragon, says: “The pub is owned by 210 people, all investors in a big co-operative. I think it’s the way to do it now, to save your village pub.
“This way if the community buys their own pub, puts a tenant in place, their chosen tenant, with guidelines to how they wish the pub to be run, then it’s the best way to save it and keep it forever.
“You’re in competition with the supermarkets, which can sell alcohol so cheap. You’re in competition with home entertainment systems now, and the internet. You’ve got to provide something that you can’t get at home, which is communicating with other people face to face and having a laugh and catching up on the gossip and events in the area. It’s that personal touch. The pub is the hub.”
For further information:
Plunkett Foundation, the Co-operative Enterprise Hub and Co-operative and Mutual Solutions help communities save their pubs co-operatively, offering advice from the initial stages, when a pub is under threat, to ongoing support for established pubs.
Plunkett offers specialist support programmes, regional community advisers, mentors and experts, as well as telephone and email support. Its dedicated website includes a directory of co-op pubs, a forum and a range of tools and resources.