The Yorkshire community that took matters into their own hands to save ale house

Stuart  Miller, the Landlord  of the  George and Dragon pub.

Stuart Miller, the Landlord of the George and Dragon pub.

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A rural tradition, involving a roaring fire and a round of best bitter.

Village pubs, an escape from the bitter winds of a winter walk or a haven of good gossip, were once the base for every big decision. Landlords, strict and stern and with the power to pull a pint, were the unspoken rulers of every village fiefdom.

Stuart  Miller (left), the Landlord of the George and Dragon pub at Hudswell with his mum and dad, Keith and Stephanie Miller, who are also part of the team.

Stuart Miller (left), the Landlord of the George and Dragon pub at Hudswell with his mum and dad, Keith and Stephanie Miller, who are also part of the team.

The demise of the traditional village pub has been well-documented. The value of land for housing, it seems, is worth far more than the role they once served. But to communities, a village pub is still its beating heart. And some are fighting back.

“Pubs are a massive part of our culture,” said landlord Stuart Miller of the George and Dragon, Camra’s pub of the year. “It’s a very British thing to do. It’s what keeps us a community.”

The Hudswell pub’s story, some years ago, was all too familiar. A pub struggling in a tough time, up for sale but with no interest, it was languishing empty and unloved. But the villagers were preparing for battle. This was their pub, and if nobody else would take it on, they would buy it themselves. They did, in 2010.

Now a co-operative, it is thriving. It is still very much a traditional a pub, serving pints and pies. But it is also the home of the local library, a shop and community allotments. And with the backing of its community buyers, business is booming.

“We liked the community aspect of it,” said Mr Miller, 37, who runs the pub with wife Melissa. “They have a lot of buy-in to the pub – they want it to stay open and support it. It’s one of the things that attracts people to the pub.”

Mr and Mrs Miller run the pub as a business, in that they make their own decisions. Having always wanted to run his own business, and a big fan of beer, it was the natural decision. But he wasn’t prepared for how hard the industry would be, he said.

“We live here, it’s our home,” he said. “Our whole life revolves around this pub. It is a very hard thing to do. It is a very hard industry. Business rates are changing, and there’s talk of VAT going up. That would impact on everybody. It’s not an easy world, and pubs are struggling. The community here has a really big buy-in. They really wanted the pub to stay, they wanted the village to have a pub. That’s why it works.

“It’s the centre of the village. Everybody knows they can pop in and see a friendly face. A pub should be the hub of the community. We have a little shop here as well. In a village like Hudswell, there wouldn’t be enough trade for an independent shop to survive, but this one is used by everybody, for their papers, for essentials like milk and eggs.

“That works, especially in more rural areas, where there aren’t any other amenities. Pubs have a future. There is still a demand there for good-quality pubs.”

Across Yorkshire, 17.5 per cent of closed pubs have been converted through a loophole in planning law which means they don’t need permission for change of use.

A change in the Neighbourhood Planning Act is coming into force from May 23 that means any such applications will now have to be determined by local planning authorities. Camra is hopeful that the change in the law can soon slow down this rate of decline, which peaked in 2015.

“The level of closures that we are seeing has been going on for decades and in the past couple of years has reached feverish activity,” said Andy Shaw, national director and campaigns coordinator. “Pubs may often be owned by pub companies, but they are assets of the community. Finally communities have been given the right to oppose change to their assets.”

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