A group of Save the Henry Jenkins campaign supporters recently completed a fact-finding tour of two local community-owned pubs – the award-winning George & Dragon at Hudswell, near Richmond, and the equally impressive Foresters Arms at Carlton-in-Coverdale .
Both pubs were in danger of closing down for good. Both have been saved and refurbished as thriving community pubs.
The George & Dragon, Hudswell
In 2008 the George & Dragon was closed and repossessed by the bank – and it looked like the village could lose its only pub … so a small group of volunteers set about exploring the idea of a community buyout. Some in the village said it wouldn’t work but a committee was formed and in a short time they raised enough capital to buy and renovate the pub and letting rooms – almost all through the issue of community shares. The pub reopened in 2010. It is run as a business by the landlord, who pays a commercial rent to the Hudswell Community Pub co-operative. The pub has a public and lounge bar, a library, community allotments and a beer garden with a fabulous view over the Swale Valley. As it is not tied to a brewery or a pub company, the landlord does not have to pay a premium price for beer or spirits and he can sell whatever he wants … so it’s no surprise that there is an excellent selection of five different kinds of local real ale. There is also delicious home cooked food, with specials displayed on a blackboard at the bar. The George & Dragon, which also incorporates a volunteer-run village shop, was recently named CAMRA Pub of the Year 2016.
Local people commented that since the pub reopened it has “changed the whole atmosphere of the village,” with a marked increase in people going out and socialising. It’s also been noticeable that people with a share in the pub – more than half of whom live in the immediate local area – have a keen interest in patronising “their” pub – and are proud to show it off to visiting friends and family.
Shareholders are paid an annual dividend of 1.5 – 3%. This is funded from around half the rent paid by the tenant; the remainder goes into co-operative funds for maintenance/ future improvements. There is now a waiting list for people wanting to buy shares!
The Foresters Arms, Carlton-in-Coverdale
The Foresters Arms is a 17th century pub with accommodation in beautiful Coverdale. But, in common with many country pubs at the time, it was not thriving and in early 2011 the owners cut their losses, closed the pub and moved out. Fearing their local could be lost forever, residents called a public meeting of all interested parties within the dale and beyond and many expressed a determination to pursue the idea of a community buyout.
A co-operative was formed, a target set for the purchase and refurbishment of the pub and people asked to make pledges for the purchase of community shares. Organisers were delighted by the rapid response and the sale went ahead. Refurbishment work began in August and the first tenants were appointed shortly afterwards. The Foresters reopened for liquid sales on Christmas Eve 2011 – just eleven months after the pub’s closure.
When the party from Kirkby visited the Foresters on a Wednesday night, the car park was full and it was heaving inside. There was a great atmosphere with a steady flow of orders from the dining room, while the main bar and snug were full of locals. Described on its website as “a quintessentially English country pub offering a warm welcome, good food and serving local beer,” it even serves a “Foresters ale” brewed by a local microbrewery.
As with the George & Dragon, the Foresters has many regular customers from well outside the village and among the 300 plus shareholders there is a sense of pride in what they like to think of as “their” pub. The tenants, Keith and Lesley, were very hospitable and Keith reported that running a community-owned pub was far preferable to working for a pub company.