The Fox & Hounds is a remarkable pub. Closed down at the end of 2010, the 18th-century boozer looked doomed as the latest in a series of owners decided they had had enough. But, in a heartwarming boost for Britain's ailing brewing industry, residents at the Lake District village of Ennerdale Bridge have reclaimed the pub as their own and re-opened its doors on Monday.
Pubs in Britain are in decline. Around 1,300 closed last year and we lose another 25 pubs every week, according to the British Beer & Pub Association. "The closure of 25 pubs every week is a blow for local communities, with pubs often acting as the hub of local life," points out BBPA chief executive, Brigid Simmonds.
Ennerdale Bridge villagers decided to fight the closure of their local. They held a meeting to consider the idea of the community buying the Fox & Hounds on 27 February, with only 10 days to raise the cash before the owners looked at alternative offers. But with 130 people packing out the meeting and pledging cash to support the bid, the race was on.
Some 182 people have since become members of the community co-operative, putting in between £100 and £4,000 apiece. They raised more than £83,000 – enough to take over the lease, renovate and re-open the pub on 4 April. "It has been an amazing success story so far," says Peter Maher, co-ordinator of the Ennerdale Hub community co-operative. "It was not just about raising the money; what's really important is that we now have more than 180 local people who have a real interest in making the village pub work."
The Fox & Hounds is the latest in a series of similar pubs that have been saved by the community. The Old Crown at Hesket Newmarket in Cumbria was the first to become a co-operative when 125 locals clubbed together to buy it in 2003. The movement is not just about saving historic hostelries, but preserving an essential community amenity.
For Ennerdale Bridge villagers, buying the pub could be the first step towards creating a much stronger local community, says Mr Maher. "We're now looking at the feasibility of initiatives such as re-opening the village shop and post office, creating a visitors' centre, and even renewable energy," he says.
The George & Dragon at Hudswell, Yorkshire, went through the process last summer. After being closed for two years, it reopened under community ownership last June. "The pub was a casualty of the credit crunch," explains Martin Booth, one of the directors of the new co-operative. "We thought it was important to save the only pub in the village."
The purchase helped to restore the social fabric of the community. The pub is used for events, celebrations, and cultural and social activities and the co-operative has diversified to provide a wide-range of services including allotments, a library and, most recently, a small shop – something the village has not seen for more than 30 years.
This week villagers at Crosby Ravensworth in Cumbria set-up a co-operative to save the The Butchers Arms, their local which closed last year. Behind all these projects is the Co-operative Enterprise Hub – a £7.5m service run by the Co-operative Group as part of its Ethical Plan. "This is a great example of how a determined community can have a say in running services important to their lives," says Angela Davies, co-operative development manager.
The movement will not save the brewing industry, but it may save some local communities. It's not just pubs, of course – cafes, galleries and grocers are among other amenities that have been saved by local people working together. You can get more information about setting up a community co-operative at www.co-operative.coop/enterprisehub.