Protz: Learning from the Antwerp Arms story

By Roger Protz

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Protz: Learning from the Antwerp Arms story

Related tags: Tottenham hotspur f.c.

Roger Protz reveals the story of a pub that faced closure but was saved when a community group was formed.

At last, some good news on the pub front: the Antwerp Arms in Tottenham, north London, has been rescued and is open for business. It’s the story of how a powerful community spirit drove a group of people to use all the regulations and funds available to save their local.

The Antwerp Arms — known as “the Annie” to its friends and supporters — is in an unlikely and almost sylvan setting in North London. You turn off the roar of Tottenham High Road into Church Road, just yards from the concrete and steel bulk of Spurs football ground.

At the end of the road, opposite Bruce Castle Park, the pub is small and neat, with hanging baskets and mullioned windows. It’s surprisingly spacious inside, with a large fireplace, a heavy oak bar, wooden floors and a long corridor that leads to a beer garden at the back. A piano in the corridor underscores the community feel of the building.

It dates from the 18th century when it was known as the Hope & Anchor. The name changed to the Antwerp Arms in 1861 to celebrate British brewers winning prizes in a beer exhibition in the Belgian city. The pub was owned for many years by the London brewer Charrington, which became part of the Bass group.

But after the tumultuous changes to beer and brewing at the end of the last century, the Annie ended up in the hands of Enterprise Inns. Chris Lane, one of the members of the Antwerp Arms Association that has saved the pub, says it was packed back in the days of Charrington.

It won the London Evening Standard’s Pub of the Year award, a remarkable achievement at a time when the capital could boast 10,000 pubs. But things started to go wrong when the Annie was run by Enterprise, the members of the association claim.

They say when the pubco demanded a proportion of the takings from food, the tenants stopped cooking.

It was a body blow to a pub that attracts not just locals from the surrounding streets but football fans on match days. The Annie is in an area that Haringey Council plans to regenerate, and food would play a key role in attracting new custom.

In 2011, Enterprise announced it was selling the pub to a property developer who planned to turn it into housing — a not unfamiliar story. The response was heartening: the formation of the Antwerp Arms Association whose members were determined to save the pub. Let’s have a roll call of the heroes of the Annie: John Bays, Ashley Gray, Mav Highstead, Lindsay Fowler, Chris Lane, Ian McLaren, Andy Moffat, Peter Start and Dick Tomlinson.

In 2013, they were successful in getting Haringey Council to declare the Annie an Asset of Community Value (ACV). That stopped Enterprise in its tracks and gave the association breathing space to raise the money needed to buy the pub.

The original asking price was £400,000 but, following negotiations, this was reduced to £285,000. But the association still had a tough fight on its hands. It had to hand over £125,000 by May 2014 or its bid would lapse and the Annie would close for good.

With the advice of the Plunkett Foundation, which helps communities save threatened local shops, pubs and other community assets, the Antwerp Arms Association turned itself into a co-operative that invited supporters to become shareholders. It was also successful in winning a grant from the government’s Social Investment Scheme.

As much as £160,000 came from shareholders, who include Tottenham Hotspur FC and former player Gary Mabbutt: Mabbutt pulled the first pint when the pub reopened in April this year. Just hours from the deadline in May 2014, the money was raised and the Annie was safe.

There are now 300 shareholders and the rest of the money needed to buy the pub has been paid off. A further £50,000 is required to make improvements to the building and further shareholders are being sought. Details can be found at www.antwerparms.co.uk.

One area in need of financial input is an improved kitchen to meet the requirements of the council’s health and safety officers. Food is essential to the future of the Annie, but beer has an equally important role to play.

Andy Moffat, one of the members of the Antwerp Arms Association, is also the founder of Redemption Brewery in Tottenham. As well as investing in the pub and playing an active part in saving it, he also supplies his cask beers to the Annie. They include Trinity, Hopspur, Urban Dusk and Rock the Kazbek: the last named is a scintillating golden ale that uses a new hop from the Czech Republic called Kazbek.

Good beer and love of a local have combined to allow the Antwerp Arms to continue to serve its community. It’s an inspiring story, one that sends a simple but urgent message to towns and villages throughout the country: pubs don’t have to close.

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