As with all good ideas, it started with a couple of beers round a kitchen table and now close to 300 people co-own our local pub, The Abingdon Arms in Beckley.
It was a tough journey and a steep learning curve but heart-warming to see the incredible support behind our campaign to save The Abingdon Arms and the community’s involvement to get the pub up and running to open for business: it has created a real sense of community.
SAVE THE ABINGDON ARMS FOR OUR COMMUNITY
Our local pub had been going downhill for some years and we realised that there was a threat that the owners would put it on the market. We didn’t want to see the pub sold off, run down and eventually converted to housing so a group of four got together and started a campaign to “Save the Abingdon Arms for our community”. In a small village community, a pub is so much more than somewhere to get a drink – it’s the hub of village life. The pub had been trading for over 300 years and we didn’t want to see it close.
REGISTERING THE PUB AS AN ACV
The first thing we did was register the pub as an asset of community value or ACV. The owner of land listed as an ACV is prohibited from disposing of that land unless certain conditions are met. This includes a moratorium on disposal for up to six months.
Then, almost overnight in May 2016, the “For Sale” sign went up and the race was on: our ACV status meant we had six months to raise the finance to buy the pub before it went on the open market. The group of four founder-members round the kitchen table grew to a voluntary committee of eleven and the hard work began.
First up we ran a community consultation, then set up the Beckley & Area Community Benefit Society, registered the Society with the FCA, developed a business plan, set up a website and produced a share offer document. It all sounds quite straightforward but it took a lot of careful planning, a huge amount of work, and a large dollop of community spirit to get everything up and running.
SHARE OFFER LAUNCHED
We launched the Save the Abingdon Arms share offer on the 1st October 2016 and a month later we had raised an amazing £504,500 from 280 people. We had investors from all over the UK from Cornwall to Scotland – and even from Australia and USA – but the large majority were from the five local villages of Beckley, Horton-cum-Studley, Elsfield, Noke and Stanton St John. The Society is governed democratically so regardless of how much individuals invested, each member only gets one vote. This means that everyone who’s a member of the Society has the opportunity to have a say about what’s important to them. Democracy in action!
WE DID IT!
The amount raised through the share offer showed that locals felt strongly about saving The Abingdon Arms for the community and maintaining a vital social hub. We put in an offer to Brakspear in November and the community became the proud owners of the pub in January 2017. This made us the seventh community-owned pub in Oxfordshire.
VOLUNTEERS A PLENTY
This was obviously a big success story for our community but the challenge didn’t stop there. We organised an army of volunteers – over 100 in total turned out to help – to clean the pub, clear the garden, rebuild the pub car park wall, and do the decorating and DIY to get the pub shipshape and ready for business. While we were looking for tenants, we opened the pub as a community venture on Friday nights and Saturdays and had vans selling food in the car park! It was a huge success and great to see the pub open and busy again.
WHAT SORT OF PUB DO YOU WANT?
At the same time, we ran a second community consultation to find out what people really wanted from their local pub. We used this information to advertise and interview for prospective tenants.
NEW TENANTS APPOINTED
In May 2017, we appointed tenants to take on the tenancy and build a flourishing pub business (see here for more details – www.theabingdonarms.co.uk). Everyone is pleased to have the pub open again for business.
There were 67,800 pubs in 1982, today there are 50,800 according to the British Beer and Pub Association. With breweries selling off pubs all the time, the community ownership model is becoming much more widespread. We hope that others will follow this route. It’s hard work but definitely worthwhile to see our local pub flourishing again.