The Farmers Arms, Muker: Meet the villagers who have rallied to save their Yorkshire Dales pub
Faced with the prospect of losing what is often their only real community hub, in what are generally sparsely populated countryside areas, villagers and those in surrounding parishes are endeavouring to ensure their public houses remain.
The Farmers Arms in Muker, one of the most iconic pubs in Swaledale, particularly noted for Muker Silver Band playing to hundreds outside the pub following Muker Show, is currently up for sale and the latest to see local residents coming together in order to secure its future.
Richard Walls, who owns and runs the art gallery and craft centre with his wife Polly, is one of four villagers to have set the ball rolling to purchase The Farmers Arms as a community-owned pub and ensure it remains so throughout the year.
“The Farmers is currently owned by Andy and Mandy Gascoigne and has been up for sale for two years,” says Richard. “They have added to the accommodation in the pub, which is useful, but they need to be back in West Yorkshire for family reasons and have been looking for a buyer without success.
“Because we want The Farmers to be here for the community, we have started to come together in order to work towards achieving that goal.
“We are in the early stages of the process and the first thing we have to establish is the level of support and interest. That’s what we’re doing. We have been getting a lot of interest through word of mouth and social media, and we have arranged two public meetings where everyone is invited to attend, in Keld and Muker next week.
Richard is keen to emphasise that, while The Farmers is always massively well supported through the tourist season, he and his fellow partners in the initial steering group are committed to the traditional ethos of a country pub serving its community throughout the year.
“It is really important from both a social and practical point of view. We don’t have much in the way of amenities or services and that makes the Farmers Arms essentially the hub of the community where people chat, catch up and get to know each other no matter what time of year. That’s how Polly and I got to know others, by coming to the Farmers.
“In winter it could be argued that The Farmers is almost more important to the community than the summer. Everyone here, whether farmers or local businesses, figuratively makes hay in summer and that sees us through the winter.
All well and good, but in the harsh reality of the commercial world can the business model of a pub in a countryside parish of less than 300 really stack up, especially when hopefully wanting to attract new tenants?
Richard is an owner of a business in the village already and understands how it works for his gallery, but also knows that owning and running a pub is very different.
“We close our gallery in January and February, but it is vital that a village pub like The Farmers is open all year round. It really is the hub of our little community.
“We are not second guessing what will come out of the public meetings but the way things are going presently I’d say there are a set of people who are very optimistic and are looking forward to the idea that they’ll be able to walk into what will then be their own village pub and talk and have a chat, and there are a set of realists who are asking the hard questions like, what about the staff? How are you going to get tenants? Are you really going to get the money?
“Those are the challenges that we face and the sort of questions we will have to answer at the meetings, but I have to say that the overwhelming feeling is one of doing this. People around here are very practically minded.
“The community owned pub model is a well-trodden path and I’m sure we’ll join the others that have done so, unless a buyer comes along in the meantime.
“First of all, our aim is to get a grant from the Government’s Community Ownership Fund. We will have to apply for a grant and be successful. In order to do that we’ve got to prove the pub’s at risk and build a really strong case. The Farmers being up for sale for two years is in our favour.
Richard describes himself as a man whose glass is always half full rather than half empty. He recalls coming to Muker for the first time on a New Year’s Day and falling in love with the village.
“It was a wet day, but I just couldn’t get over the beauty of Muker. The Farmers Arms has so much going for it. The location here is stunning, but it also has that very real sense of community that I have not felt in other places I have lived. Andy’s done a great job with the accommodation upstairs, and there’s a barn across the road that could be a holiday flat providing more income or staff accommodation.
“In my humble opinion The Farmers has more going for it than I’d say most other village pubs have, and I’d like to think that once we have raised the necessary monies to purchase it, we will have little problem in attracting a new tenant.
“From Easter to October half-term we are overrun with visitors, the camp sites and all types of accommodations are full, people come in their droves to the annual Swaledale Festival, to see the amazing Muker wildflower hay meadows and Muker Show just keeps getting more popular every year. Our walks are the most stunning in the Dales and I don’t think there’s going to be any drop-off in traffic coming to the Farmers Arms. People become addicted to Upper Swaledale.
Richard says that the decision over whether The Farmers would be run by a manager or given over to a tenant has not yet been finalised, but that a tenant would seem the best option.
“We will probably go with a tenant because it makes it easier for everybody and gives the tenant the opportunity to make as much as they can.
“All I want is for Muker Parish to have The Farmers here forever, supporting the local community. Right now a community buy-out seems the best way to secure it.
Public Meetings: Muker Public Hall, Tuesday 14 November; Keld Public Hall, Thursday 16 November. 7.30pm.