Community pub named Britain’s best rural social enterprise

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Community shines: the Pheasant at Neenton has collected a top honour after locals rescued it from dereliction
Community shines: the Pheasant at Neenton has collected a top honour after locals rescued it from dereliction

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The community-owned Pheasant at Neenton, in Shropshire, has been named Britain’s best rural social enterprise at the 2019-20 Rural Business Awards.

The Pheasant – a finalist in the Best Community Pub category at the 2018 Great British Pub Awards​ – claimed the prize for Best Rural Social Enterprise, Charity or Community Project at a ceremony in Manchester on 27 February.

The Midlands pub, which was rescued from dereliction and reopened in 2014​ by Neenton Community Society – which now owns and runs the site – pipped runner-up Llanwrtyd Wells Community Transport as well as finalists LionMouth Rural Centre, Running Deer CIC, Hampstead Norreys Community Shop and Itteringham Community Shop.

“We’re thrilled, not simply to have won this prestigious award, but to see the judges’ clear appreciation of the aims and benefits of our project,” Neenton Community Society’s chairman John Pickup said.

“Our community has invested far more than the premises is worth as a pub, and continues to plough in thousands of hours of volunteer time every year, in order to deliver the benefits our charitable social enterprise is bringing to our rural area.

“As well as creating much-needed employment for local young people, which also helps develop their life skills, the Pheasant provides recreational facilities and a social hub that helps counter the rural isolation that affects so many.

“By the end of this year – six years after reopening the Pheasant – the society will have put approaching £3m to £4m into the pockets of local young people working at the Pheasant,” Pickup added.

“We’ve further boosted the local economy through spending with local suppliers and tradespeople, and bringing visitors to the area. But being constituted as a charitable society, every penny earned from the enterprise goes to pursuing the society’s objects of reviving our rural area, and helping it thrive.”

The Pheasant project, which built seven new houses in the village and now provides employment for more than a dozen local young people under the guidance of head chef Mark Harris and manager Sarah Cowley.

Pheasant - Before and after

Grown from nothing

Now in their fifth year, the awards – run in partnership with Amazon – aim to recognise and celebrate the successes of businesses operating in the UK’s rural economy; a sector contributing £261bn in gross value added in England alone, which is almost one fifth of total economic activity.

Discussing the Pheasant at Neenton’s accolade, the awards’ co-founders Anna Price and Jemma Clifford said that the judges had been “blown away” by the pub.

“To have grown from nothing into one of the best dining pubs in the region really speaks to this community's ingenuity,” they commented.

“Country pubs have long been at the centre of their rural communities, but this phenomenal social enterprise has reinvented that idea for the modern day, providing employment, housing, and acting as a social hub and tourist destination in a rural area that really needs these services. This award was truly well-deserved."

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