Yorkshire villagers fighting back to keep pubs as hubs

The White Horse pub in Church Fenton has been reopened by the community, who have raised the money to buy it. Pictured are Church Fenton Community Hub members from left, Mike Wright, Lesley Wright, Nigel Thirkill and Sue Babington. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
The White Horse pub in Church Fenton has been reopened by the community, who have raised the money to buy it. Pictured are Church Fenton Community Hub members from left, Mike Wright, Lesley Wright, Nigel Thirkill and Sue Babington. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

When a pub closes, the effects can ripple through the community, particularly where there are no others within walking distance.


Some 20 pubs have shut a week on average over recent years, according to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), with each one representing the loss of a vital meeting place and social hub.

Church Fenton Community Hub chairman Nigel Thirkill. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Church Fenton Community Hub chairman Nigel Thirkill. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

But communities are “fighting back”, a new CAMRA report explains, including in the village of Church Fenton, between Leeds and York.

When the White Horse pub shut three years ago, and amid fears it would be turned into housing, a group of villagers decided they could not suffer the loss of such a crucial amenity.

They raised the funds to buy the pub for £359,000 last summer and now, the Church Fenton Community Hub – a community benefit society set up by residents – has completed a total renovation and refurbishment, allowing it to reopen to the public last month.

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Lesley Wright, a member of the Hub, which acts as the pub’s landlords on behalf of the local parish council, said: “It has brought the village back to life with somewhere to go without having to get in the car or train. It has also brought employment for many local residents.

“We now have a fantastic asset in the heart of our village, which brings the community together.”

The pub first opened in 1881 but fell into disrepair after closing in August 2016. Some £130,000 was spent to create what is now a family-friendly “gastro-pub restaurant” with gardens. Its rejuvenation means that the community is now served by two pubs, with the Fenton Flyer located at the other end of the village.

According to CAMRA, the White Horse is one of more than 130 community pubs currently trading across the UK, but it identifies that one of the biggest hurdles to other communities replicating the success is raising the necessary finance. The average cost of setting up a community pub is £337,650, according to The Prince’s Countryside Fund.

In Church Fenton, the local parish council helped the Community Hub secure a public works loan to acquire the pub, almost 200 residents bought shares to boost funds and local companies made contributions.

In similar fashion, villagers in Exelby near Bedale purchased the Exelby Green Dragon last October after securing more than £350,000 of funding. Having reopened in December, it was named CAMRA pub of the month for April.

While the project has been hard work, John Walker, secretary of the community-run Exelby Green Dragon Community Pub Ltd, said he would “absolutely” recommend other communities to follow suit.

“It’s been a really rewarding journey and has brought the community together, particularly a village like ours which doesn’t otherwise have a focal point or meeting space,” he said.

The Exelby group has also opened a cafe and deli next door, a cottage for let to help address a lack of affordable homes, and plans to open three bed and breakfast rooms above the pub by the end of the year.

Other community-run pubs in Yorkshire include The George and Dragon in Hudswell, The Foresters Arms in Carlton, the Golden Ball in York, the Fox and Goose Inn in Hebden Bridge and the Gardeners Rest in Sheffield.

More could follow. An extra £2.2m to help more pubs open under community ownership, via the Plunkett Foundation, was announced in June by Power to Change, the independent charitable trust.

Landlords’ threat to pubs

Beer duty, rising business rates and VAT are all affecting the profitability of British pubs and CAMRA said that many landlords see greater value in a change of use.

“Many owners regard pubs primarily as property assets which are more valuable if their use can be changed to something else like a house or shop,” the chairman of CAMRA’s pubs campaigns committee, Paul Ainsworth, says in a new guide to community ownership.

“However, all across the country, communities are fighting back,” he adds.

“In some cases... the best way forward for local people has been to buy the pub themselves. Over 130 pubs are now community-owned with many more in the pipeline.”