We are rather fortunate in Weston in Gordano with our community buildings, the beautiful medieval church, our village hall and a village pub, real community resources. Sadly two of the three have significant and challenging problems, the church with dry rot and the pub empty and on the market, with little clarity as to when or if it might one day open again.
Although we have secured the registration of the pub as an Asset of Community Value, currently there is no community control. There have been the odd mysterious comings and goings into the pub, the latest being, what is believed to have been the removal of an asbestos fireplace panel.
The pub is rather in limbo land at the moment, in the hedge fund owner’s hands. Fairly early on there was some information, via the very reputable estate agents, that an offer for a new lease was being made, not through the agents Savills but directly with the owners. This was many months ago with little progress being apparent since then.
In contrast, the village hall is owned and managed by the community. It has a covenant upon it that protects it, and its land and building, as a community resource as long as it remains a village hall. If the hall’s function changes, the property must be returned to the Miles Estate. The Church is also locally managed and is the property of the local congregation; the national church authorities oversee and protect its use and function. Sadly it is the pub that stands out amongst these three community resources as being outside of the control or management of the local community.
We could change that situation... “How?” you may ask. Well, there are means whereby communities can bring together various funding streams to enable a “community buy out”. Did I hear someone say ‘deep pockets’? Well no, this is not always necessary. How about lots of smaller to medium size pockets and government loan schemes to local authorities such as our Parish Council? Such government loans can be on reasonable terms, with capital available over substantial time periods. We are currently exploring a number of options and avenues, to see how we could bring together a combination of financial sources, with the aim of achieving a community buy out of the pub.
Ahh! I hear, ‘it wouldn't work’ with villagers pulling the pints and a committee acting as managers. This doesn’t need to be a problem. It could simply be the community becoming the ‘property owners’, leasing out the pub to appropriate entrepreneurs and experts in the pub and hospitality management field.
The current owners are asking for what we believe to be an unrealistic £65,000 per year rental. That money is finance lost to the community and the country. If together we achieve a community buy out, and become the owners, the rental value could hopefully be set at a more sustainable level and used to service any loan etc and in the longer term become reinvested in the community.
There are a number of models as to how community ownership can be achieve, setting up a Community Land Trust or social enterprise company are just some of the options that have succeeded in other communities who felt passionately that they wanted to save their village pub as a local assets. Combination funding is often key, and may include crowd source funding, community share options and a Government Local Authority loan. The basic principal would be to secure the pub as the community resource held, in perpetuity, to always be our village pub for generations to come. It has been the heart of our community for around three hundred years, let’s give it another few more. This can be done with imagination, commitment and willpower.
We can do this if we choose to do so. We believe this is an exciting and realistic prospect and are busy gathering information on the options, which we hope to share with you at a future public meeting. Let’s make our generation the one that secured this asset and resource for generations to come, and to bring back into the community, along with the economic and social benefits within our custodianship.
Cllr Ian Holding