How community ownership of the Exelby Green Dragon pub near Bedale has brought a village back together

Community spirit has never been more evident than in a small village near Bedale in the past three years. It has all been down to the purchase, renovation and reopening of the village’s only amenity, the pub Exelby Green Dragon.

Landlords Tom and Becci Baker are accountable to the village committee who now own the pub
Landlords Tom and Becci Baker are accountable to the village committee who now own the pub

Resident Peter Simpson led the charge. Peter is a joiner and plumber by trade and was one of the ‘5 o’clock crew’ that regularly propped up the bar over the years, popping by for a pint on his way home after a hard day’s work.

Peter said that three years on since the pub became community-owned and despite the past year’s restrictions it has become even more important.

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“The best outcome is that everyone is now using the pub. When I first moved here 25 years ago it was a hive of activity, the place to be for eating, drinking and socialising. It was the village pub, a country pub. I couldn’t smile widely enough that first week in April this year when people were back in here enjoying themselves.

Becci in the pub garden

“There’s nothing else in the village and a few of us, starting five years ago, had thought about whether we could get the pub into some kind of community ownership to revive its fortunes.

“Our first base, having contacted The Plunkett Foundation who offer advice on community projects, was to get the pub registered as an asset of community value. That meant the community would have first shot to buy if the pub came on the market.”

Peter said that engaging and enthusing the community to get behind the idea of putting money towards the project and becoming shareholders, particularly in what were rundown premises that needed renewal, was vital.

“We were telling everyone that we needed to save the pub as a village asset. It took us a great deal of time and effort in getting people fully behind the idea and what it would mean for the community.

Becci with committee treasurer Gerry Price and director George Cornwall-Legh, who make decisions on matters such as the food menu

“This is Yorkshire after all and everyone wanted to know the detail. People weren’t going to throw money in and hope for the best. Once we grew that community aspect and people knew that it was available for all meetings of all kinds at all times we found there was a good body of enthusiasm and a ‘mood music’ going our way.”

The pub shut in May 2018 after the last tenant landlord gave it up. Suddenly, the reality hit for Peter and his team that had been assembled and had been preparing for this moment.

“That was the trigger for our real push to see whether we could buy the pub and, following a meeting in September that year we had enough financial pledges of support to buy it and renovate.

“We went into the project with our eyes wide open. We knew what needed to be done to bring it up to date and how we could make it a viable concern for a couple to come in and run it. We also knew we needed the right people in here to do that, people who were motivated to build a life and business of their own.”

By October 2018 the Exelby Green Dragon Community Pub Ltd bought what is now Exelby Green Dragon. Investment has been made in every part of the enterprise from the pub itself and its rooms to the beer garden, three en-suite rooms for bed and breakfast accommodation above the pub that are in great demand for staycations, a village shop, new kitchen and new toilets, plus a complete renovation of the attached cottage.

Peter said everything that the pub company has done has come in on budget and it is meeting the most vital criteria laid down by the locals over food.

“We have just extended the beer garden with a new upper area. When we first took on the pub we had our business plan and that wasn’t in it, but with sound financial management we’ve achieved everything we set out to do and more - including our landlord and landlady, Tom and Becci, serving fantastic fish and chips, which was the brief from the locals.

“I honestly feel the villagers now know each other better than ever. The first weekend we took it on we had an army of local people with buckets, spades and cloths to clean the place out. We are more of a village again for what we have done.”

Tom and Becci Baker from Wakefield became the hosts at Exelby Green Dragon, opening the doors for the first time on December 1, 2018. They come from a pubs and hospitality background.

Peter said they had proved the ideal couple.

“We wanted this to work for everyone. When Tom and Becci first came we discussed a five-year deal. We’re now already talking about a second five years.”