Villagers launch campaign to buy derelict pub near Richmond for the community after developer was refused permission to convert it into housing

A village pub which has been closed for more than a decade could finally open again after the community it once served rallied round to revive it.
Members of the Skeeby Community Pub Project Society outside The Traveller's RestMembers of the Skeeby Community Pub Project Society outside The Traveller's Rest
Members of the Skeeby Community Pub Project Society outside The Traveller's Rest

The Traveller's Rest in Skeeby, near Richmond, shut in 2008 and has stood empty ever since following a planning battle involving its owner, a property developer, and Richmondshire Council over its conversion into housing.

The developer's application to change the use of the pub to residential was finally rejected at an appeal hearing in 2017, and he has recently offered it for sale with an asking price of £180,000.

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The 11 committee members of the Skeeby Pub Community Project Society have now relaunched a campaign which had lain dormant for several years in a bid to win financial support to enable to them to purchase the building themselves and run it as a tenanted community pub.

In a village that has already lost its shop, school and post office, the reincarnation of The Traveller's Rest offers them the chance to set up an all-day hub with services such as a book exchange, cafe and parcel collection point.

Local MP Rishi Sunak has backed their plans and the council has indicated that officers may even consider enacting a Compulsory Purchase Order to seize the deteriorating building and secure its future.

Society chair Richard Wright, who moved to Skeeby from Leeds in 1998, says the revitalised campaign has attracted newcomers such as a web designer and a brewery director who have never lived in the village when the pub has been open.

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"It was difficult to move forward before the appeal outcome in 2017 meant a change of use was no longer an option. We have been trying to convince the council that a CPO is the only option, but they are reluctant to go down that route because of the potential legal costs. If they can't broker a deal with the owner, it's the only answer.

"We've got more political support now from Sunak and the council, and the head of planning has now told us that we need to demonstrate support in the form of financial pledges to justify applying for a CPO."

So far, they have raised £80,000 in pledges and donations, and are aiming to hit £200,000.

"£200,000 would hand us the building. However, when the council went to appeal, their valuation of it was £110,000, so we have appointed a specialist to determine its current value now that it cannot be converted into housing.

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"We would need a further £100,000 to re-open it, as it is just a shell at the moment. The owner's most recent offer was £180,000, so there may be a negotiating point there that would avoid having to go down the CPO route."

Mr Wright has been in close contact with the community pub company that runs the nearby George and Dragon at Hudswell, and points out that none of the estimated 150 community pubs in the UK have failed as business ventures.

He is also more optimistic than at any point previously that The Traveller's Rest has a viable future, having seen it thrive when run independently by a local couple who took it over around 20 years ago.

"They transformed it, it had themed nights and it was really buzzing. They sold it to a pub company when they split up, and there was then a succession of inexperienced tenants. There were very high lease charges and weekly rents, and once the kitchen closed and the food service stopped we could see the end coming.

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"We tried to get a group together back in 2008 to save it, but the current owner came in with a cash purchase.

"We want to attract that cafe trade during the day, and have a shop with basic provisions and things like a book exchange. The tenant could work with the village hall to provide a bar for functions."

Mr Wright also wants to avoid the campaign's aims being restricted to benefit its residents, and he wants to ensure the pub becomes a destination in the same way as The George and Dragon at Hudswell has.

"This will not just be for the village. This year, there has been a huge increase in people walking and cycling around Skeeby, and there is the potential to attract more of them. We are on a regular bus route between Richmond and Darlington - we're actually far less isolated than Hudswell.

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"The demographics of the village have changed in the past 10 years, new people have moved here and pledged their support. The committee has increased from three to 10 people since March! There is expertise and enthusiasm - one of them, Ali Bell, has redesigned our website.

"We sent round a survey and got back suggestions for things like craft clubs. There is no end of possibilities. It would be a hub throughout the day, not just an evening bar."

To donate or pledge to the campaign, click here.