British pubs in trouble are being cared for by local customers: NPR



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The Packhorse is a pub located in the village of South Stoke, in the west of England. The villagers came together to buy the pub after selling it to turn it into residential and office spaces.

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The Packhorse is a pub located in the village of South Stoke, in the west of England. The villagers came together to buy the pub after selling it to turn it into residential and office spaces.

Frank Langfitt / NPR

The Packhorse pub is located in the tiny village of South Stoke, in the west of England, amid rolling hills dotted with sheep. For more than a century and a half, he played a crucial role in the village and marked a milestone in the lives of local families.

Gerard Coles, who was born one kilometer from the pub and now prepares cider nearby, began coming to Packhorse at the age of 15, sometimes with his teacher for lunch.

"The guy who came to install our new gas line said it was designed in the garden," recalls Trevor John, a retired accountant, who has been living here for almost 30 years.

But in 2012, Punch Taverns, a company that owns approximately 1,300 cafés across the UK, sold the Packhorse to convert it into housing and office space.

It's a familiar story. In the United Kingdom, cafés are closing all the time, victims of changing lifestyles and the rising value of real estate. In fact, the local population claims that Packhorse would be worth twice as much as housing and offices that it functioned as a pub.

(From left to right) Dom Moorhouse, an entrepreneur, cider farmer Gerard Coles and retired accountant Trevor John are part of Save the Packhorse, a team of villagers who have raised more than 1.3 million dollars to buy and renovate their premises. pub, after its conversion into residences and offices.

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(From left to right) Dom Moorhouse, an entrepreneur, cider farmer Gerard Coles and retired accountant Trevor John are part of Save the Packhorse, a team of villagers who have raised more than 1.3 million dollars to buy and renovate their premises. pub, after its conversion into residences and offices.

Frank Langfitt / NPR

But the villagers feared without Packhorse, there would be no place to gather. So, in 2012, John, Coles and other villagers created a local campaign called "Save the Packhorse". They undertook to preserve the pub and eventually raised funds to buy it.

"You are exhausting a small community from a place like this, which is the only communal pole, and you take away the heart," said Dom Moorhouse, an entrepreneur who helped lead the effort.

Since 2012, nearly 80 community groups in the UK have purchased their local pubs, according to the Plunkett Foundation, a charity that provides grants and advice to communities on how to buy and manage pubs.

"The demand is huge," said James Alcock, executive director of Plunkett. "We are currently working with just under 250 communities that are somewhere in the process of creating a community-owned pub."

Alcock said all the cafés that community groups have bought in the last seven years are still in business. But, as Save the Packhorse discovered, it takes a lot of planning, work and money.

The Packhorse has been neglected for decades and the backyard has become a jungle. Village volunteers spent hundreds of hours cleaning and scrubbing it before the reopening of the pub last year.

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The Packhorse has been neglected for decades and the backyard has become a jungle. Village volunteers spent hundreds of hours cleaning and scrubbing it before the reopening of the pub last year.

Frank Langfitt / NPR

The volunteers spent the first few years fighting a planning request from the new owner to convert the building into residential and office use. They discovered a local policy stating that the new owner could convert the pub to other uses only if it could prove that the property was no longer financially viable as a pub.

Then, the villagers enrolled the Packhorse group as a community asset, which forced the owner to give them six months to arrange a competitive bidding for the purchase of the building after it was decided to hand it over. the market. According to Moorhouse, volunteers have traveled south of Stoke, just outside the city of Bath, looking for investors, selling shares for $ 650 each.

"There's a lot of banging on the doors, a lot of emails, a lot of coffee meetings," recalls Moorhouse. "A few weeks before the deadline, we had to raise 525,000 pound sterling [nearly $690,000]. I think we were missing about 50,000 pounds and we were really sweating, really. "

In the last 24 hours, Save the Packhorse has exceeded its target. The group now had enough money to buy the pub but still needed more to reorganize it. After decades of neglect, the Packhorse was a wreck. Inside the stone building, which dates from the 17th century, the paint was peeling off, holes were in the walls and windows were closed.

"The owners had removed everything," recalls John. "All the radiators were gone, the plumbing, the electricity and the floors were falling out."

Volunteers spent hundreds of hours scrubbing and moving 15 tons of soil to level the rear garden, so overgrown that it was hard to see the ground floor of the pub. They then stripped the interior of the building where they discovered a damaged fireplace dating from the seventeenth century, hidden behind drywall.. A master stonemason has restored it for free.

One snowy day last year, dozens of villagers and supporters went to Packhorse. Brian Perkins, whose family ran the pub and was born there in 1930, cut a ribbon and reopened Packhorse.

If running an English pub seems romantic, it is not the case. You are competing with everything from cheaper supermarket beers to Netflix. But Moorhouse says that one of the main reasons people here frequent Packhorse is because the community owns it.

"We now have 430 people who want it to work," said Moorhouse, referring to the many shareholders of the pub. "They are our traders."

South Stoke is a small village located just outside the city of Bath, in the west of England.

Frank Langfitt / NPR


hide legend

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Frank Langfitt / NPR

South Stoke is a small village located just outside the city of Bath, in the west of England.

Frank Langfitt / NPR

About a year later, the Packhorse seems to be doing well. The pub offers weekly concerts, including folk musicians and singalongs of pub choirs. The business plan predicted that Packhorse will make a profit after two years and organizers say performance is ahead of schedule.

During a visit in hot weather, the back garden was almost full. Adge Secker, a retired policeman, was eating fish and chips at a picnic table with his wife.

"We love it!" Secker said. "It's an excellent country pub … you can have lunch together and a pint of cider, a glass of wine in the beautiful Somerset countryside … what better than that!"

NPR producer Samuel Alwyine-Mosely contributed to this story.

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