It is a common nightmare that many local villages face. Following years of struggle, a post office or local shop closes. Then the pub, which has become the only local community facility, closes too. The two situations are rarely mutually exclusive, and one normally follows the other. But there are examples where the cycle of retail decline can be reversed, where a pub can reopen and revive a community – and even provide a shop.
The Three Horseshoes in the small village of Charsfield, Suffolk, was one such rural establishment. It was the only significant business in the community. But disaster struck in May 2011 when the pub closed. As is now typical in such cases, the community rallied around and attempted to save the pub, setting up a community benefit society to purchase it.
Fortunately the group didn’t have to go through with the purchase though, as eighteen months after it closed Jerry and Sharon Bird bought the pub on an 8 year lease from a private owner.
The Birds quickly set about turning the business around. The interior was thoroughly refurbished, and a beer garden was upgraded. They were keen to give back to the local community which had assisted them in backing the pub as a viable business, and after talking to residents about what they wanted a shop topped the list.
The funding journey
The decision to have a farm shop really was not a surprise. Villagers were taking an 8 mile round trip to get provisions before it opened in July 2015.
In order for the Birds to get that point though, funding was required. The Birds contact Pub is The Hub for advice, and it was decided to convert an adjacent barn into the shop. Although primarily a vehicle for selling convenience foods, it also supports local businesses and suppliers, selling produce from the area and home grown plants and hanging baskets.
The Birds received £4000 through the community services fund to assist with the project. Available since April 2013, the fund aims to help licensees who are looking to broaden their services to the wider community, but are unable to find suitable funding in which to achieve this goal.
It is great to see licensees offer their locals something more than a pie and a pint.
Grants are available up to the value of £4,000, and applicants have to demonstrate that they will be offering a new service or replacing a service that has already been lost to the local community, such as a local shop or a library.
It has assisted 55 projects in England and Wales since it was set up – and helped create 112 additional services to 60,000 local people. There are currently 27 projects in the pipeline awaiting funding. For every £1 is invested in the fund by Pub is The Hub, a further £1 is matched or invested by public funding or private investment.
The fund has been supported by pubcos, including Greene King, who has made a further £15,000 donation to the fund. This is the third year it has made a donation – bringing the total to £45,000.
Chief executive of Greene King, Rooney Anand, said: “Pubs have always played a really important role in the community and by supporting the fund (it) means we can help pubs to provide other services in their local area.
“It is great to see licensees offer their locals something more than a pie and a pint, such as a library in a pub or providing a postal service when the local post office has closed down. I look forward to seeing the progress and positive impact the fund will make again this year.”
As for the Three Horseshoes, the fund spreads beyond simple business growth. There are also the sustainability and disability access issues that illustrate the importance of the venture. The shop saves locals time and money, helps the elderly and disabled citizens who find it difficult to travel, and reduces carbon footprint and emissions from unnecessary car or bus journeys.
It therefore directly improves the quality of life for the residents of Charsfield on social, economic and environmental levels.
The pub and shop are now the focal point for the community, and it has helped make The Three Horseshoes pub a genuine village hub.
Three cheers to that.
Lessons from the Three Horseshoes
- An experienced couple taking on this venture
- Elderly and those without cars can access services more easily
- Reduces social exclusion for the elderly and infirm
- Cuts the carbon footprint for the whole community
- The project was completed using local trades people.
- Total project costs: £10,000
- Applicant contribution: £6,000
- Pub is The Hub Grant: £4,000
Visit: The Pub is the Hub website for more on the fund and advice