Community pubs on the rise as Church Fenton villagers get set to reopen the White Horse

WORK AHEAD: Mike Wright , Sue Babington and Lesley Wright members of the Church Fenton Community Hub at the White Horse pub.
WORK AHEAD: Mike Wright , Sue Babington and Lesley Wright members of the Church Fenton Community Hub at the White Horse pub.
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AS well as providing liquid refreshment and hearty grub, pubs are invaluable community assets which bring people together, yet they continue to close at an alarming rate.

Some 18 pubs shut per week, according to the latest research by the Campaign for Real Ale, as a triple whammy of high beer duty, rising business rates and VAT take their toll.

The White Horse pub in Church Fenton first opened in 1881 but it shut in 2016.

The White Horse pub in Church Fenton first opened in 1881 but it shut in 2016.

Nonetheless, communities across the country are creating a modern breed of pub. According to the Plunkett Foundation, the co-operative or community pub movement is gathering serious momentum.

As of 2016, 46 pubs in the UK were run by the community, thanks to buy-outs aided by government loans and the support of the ‘More than a Pub’ programme, which is led by the Plunkett Foundation using government funding.

Five community pubs are open in Yorkshire and that number could be about to grow.

After months of hard work, villagers in Church Fenton have bought the White Horse from Enterprise Inns, one of two pubs in the village which has shut in recent years.

After convincing the local parish council to support their cause, a publics works loan was secured. It provided more than £500,000 for the parish council to buy the pub and then lease it back to the community via Church Fenton Community Hub.

A subsequent community share scheme has raised over £40,000, which is going towards the dilapidated pub’s ambitious refurbishment. The refurb is being spearheaded by H&P Pubs which has taken on the tenancy of the White Horse in addition to their other enterprise, The Boundary House pub in Methley.

Despite all the financial challenges facing the pub sector, Nigel Thirkill, chairman of Church Fenton Community Hub, is confident that the White Horse will become a thriving concern at the heart of the community.

“If you get a pub right, those things aren’t an issue,” he said.

“There are pubs that are trading phenomenally well, turning over a significant amount of money a year and those pubs have the ticks in the boxes that you need.”

The vision for the White Horse, which first opened in 1881 and shut in 2016, is to create a bar and restaurant with “a significant outside offering”.

“We hope the community will be absolutely over the moon with what we have brought back to them. The pub they are going to see is going to be quite a surprise to them I think,” Mr Thirkill said.

Church Fenton is not alone in forging ahead with the revival a village pub. In Exelby near Bedale, villagers have launched a community share scheme to raise about £300,000 as they seek to breathe new life into the Green Dragon pub, which they struck a deal for with Enterprise Inns after it shut in April.

Chris Cowcher, head of community business at the Plunkett Foundation, sees the community pub model as a robust one that can stand the test of time. “The number of community pubs opening their doors is on the rise and Plunkett is very proud to be supporting this growing sector,” he said.

“Given that none of these kind of community-run enterprises have closed to date, it seems to be a really positive step for locals to take in order to safeguard a valued facility at the heart of their community.”

Pubgoers can support five community-run pubs in Yorkshire: 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.

Mr Cowcher said: “We see the community business model as a way of sustaining, retaining or reintroducing services locally and whilst Plunkett predominantly works in rural areas, the upward trend for community pubs is also being experienced in urban areas too.”