Stronger community rights ‘could boost urban co-op pub sector’

‘Community ownership of a pub can restore a feeling of pride in place, and allow people to transform a closed business into a thriving community hub’

A new report from the Plunkett Foundation argues that improved community rights legislation, flexible funding and support would boost the number of urban community-owned pubs in the UK.

Plunkett, a support organisation for community-owned services including pubs and shops, says this will “breathe new life into neglected buildings and transform their neighbourhoods”.

The number of community-owned pubs has grown rapidly in the last 20 years, it says, from four in 2002 to 147 now trading across the UK. However, only 22 (15%) of these are based in urban areas.

Plunkett has carried out new research, funded by Power To Change, into why so few community-owned pubs are established in urban areas.

The research revealed that the most common reason for an urban community pub failing to reach trading status is private competition for the purchase of the pub building. Over half (52%) of 200 urban community groups that had contacted Plunkett Foundation for free support and advice were outbid, when trying to buy their pub through competitive process.

The second most common reason is the inability to raise the escalating purchase price of urban pubs, with some pub buildings costing up to £950,000 on the open market, due to their residential development value.

Groups also cited the challenge of raising enough money to meet the escalating purchase price of urban pubs, with some buildings costing up to £950,000 on the open market as a barrier to progress.

Plunkett warns that community pub projects are often complex and time consuming for a volunteer-led sector. Its research identified that where groups have struggled to recruit volunteers, accessing revenue funding to ‘buy in’ additional capacity, alongside any other programme of advice and support, could be transformational for urban community pub projects.

Related: Can the co-op difference help the UK’s community pubs?

The research makes a number of policy recommendations:

  • Introduce a Community Right to Buy, as already exists in Scotland, to allow communities first refusal on registered pub buildings when they come up for sale
  • Provide dedicated advisory and capacity building support, to nurture the development of community-owned pub projects in urban areas
  • Offer more varied and flexible funding programmes, which include the provision of revenue and capital funding.

In the report, many urban community pubs and developing projects highlight the value of business advice, peer learning and mentoring, without which their projects might not have succeeded.

Plunkett says this view is supported by the results of its More than a Pub development programme where the chances of success for community pub projects increased from one in ten to one in three, where bursaries and advisor support were provided. This success rate rose to 100% where a loan and grant package was provided.

Claire Spendley, head of community business at Plunkett, said: “Despite the challenges involved, urban community pubs can bring huge benefits to local people. They can rebuild the social fabric of an urban area by offering a place to meet, vital services and providing many social benefits, such as affordable meals, children’s activities, club meeting spaces, community gardens, dementia cafes, and pop-up health surgeries. Community ownership of a pub can restore a feeling of pride in place, and allow people to transform a closed business into a thriving community hub.

“This research shows that the interest in community-ownership of pubs in urban areas exists. Plunkett Foundation is committed to growing the community-owned pub sector and we look forward to working with partners to achieve this, implementing the recommendations proposed.”

Nick Plum, policy and public affairs manager at Power to Change, said: “With vacancy rates at an all time high, urban community pubs have an important role to play in securing the future of our high streets. They are a clear example of local people reclaiming important social spaces and as big retail moves out community pubs will provide the destination spaces needed to draw people in. It is therefore vital that communities have the power, tools and funding needed to secure these spaces and ensure our towns remain vibrant.”

Communities wishing to safeguard their local pub through community ownership should contact the Plunkett Foundation for free advice and training on 01993 630022.