In many remote countryside communities across the UK the pub is the hub of the community. When an owner decides that their pub business is too much of a struggle, or the local property prices are just too tempting not to convert their pub into a house, that is when a heart can be ripped out of a village. Villagers may occasionally bump into each other at the local town’s doctor’s surgery but the old days of assistance and camaraderie being cultivated over a beer or two at the bar are, in some locations, disappearing.
The countryside is not giving up without a fight. There are dozens of “Save Our Pub” battles going on across the country. These involve some prize pubs with special histories, which have been at the heart of country village life for centuries.
In one village after another across the country, pubs are closing, as many as 25 a week by some counts, and this is accepted with English fatalism. But the people of South Stoke, near Bath, chose not to accept the loss of the Packhorse mutely; the locals decided to save their local. And in the process they may have demonstrated that ‘community’ and indeed ‘local’ or localism are not merely empty rhetoric.
There are other fights going on….
Take the Yarcombe Inn, on the A30 between Honiton and Chard, which dates back almost a thousand years, and once belonged to the monks from Mont St Michel in France, and along with the rest of Yarcombe, was later owned by Sir Francis Drake. There has been a campaign ongoing in Yarcombe trying to save the pub as a hub for the local community and funds have already been raised for the cause. Recently an offer was put in to the owners of the pub to have the pub acquired by the community. Meanwhile in nearby Stockland there have been dozens of investors step forward to save the King’s Arms pub there.
Some petitions fail. Take the Old House at Home in Newham, Hampshire, whose owners sought to build two executive homes on the site. Or the Villagers Inn in Blackheath village located in the heart of beautiful Surrey heathland, which remains closed.
Villagers need angels to step in with funds and business plans to save these pubs. There are plenty of resources online to assist villagers with pub-saving strategies and there exists legislation making saving pubs more practicable (Under the 2011 Localism Act, the Packhorse was declared an asset of community value. Then the Pack Horse South Stoke Ltd was registered as a society under the 2014 Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act, selling £500 shares. More than 1,600 pubs are now protected under the 2011 Act, according to the Campaign for Real Ale, and several dozen are being kept open by local co-operatives.)
“The hardest task is getting local millionaires and landowners on board,” says Rob in Yarcombe, who prefers not to give his surname. “There are local landlords and landowners who will warmly greet you when you go to help out on their shoot or take part in the hunt. They are rolling in it. Yet they seem too stuck up and often generations away from the real breadwinners in their families to really give a sh** about the local community, let alone their boozer. Their noses are too stuck in the Guardian.”
Bring it on.
Save those pubs!