How a band of regulars came together to save their beloved local

When the Fox and Goose in Hebden Bridge was threatened with closure, its loyal band of regulars was determined not to see it go, or worse, fall into the hands of a homogeneous pub chain.

Fox and Goose directors Tudor Gwynn (left) and Drew Marsh outside the pub. Picture by Simon Hulme

It took two years of hard work by a dedicated group of volunteers, but in March it became West Yorkshire’s first community-owned pub.

The journey from listing it as an Asset of Community Value (ACV), to eventually owning the pub outright, was long and arduous. The Fox and Goose Hebden Bridge Ltd formed as a Industrial and Provident Society, wrote a business plan and raised £130,000 in a share offer, but it was all worthwhile, according to one of its directors, Drew Marsh.

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He said: “We were lucky in that the landlady backed us all the way, She was concerned that if the pub was put on the open market it would be sold to a developer or be consumed by a larger chain.

“We had a vibrant community, with a lot of people sold in to what the Fox and Goose was about. We’re very fortunate that Hebden Bridge is such a community orientated town.”

The group was lucky to have a lot of “insider knowledge”, a bank of skills they could exploit. Mr Marsh, a former craft brewer, had experience in the pub trade and other group members were accountants, project managers and website designers, and a local councillor Dave Young, had some knowledge of the mechanisms of using the act.

“At the time we were starting out the Community Right to Buy was very new. Calderdale Council were very supportive and keen to start using the legislation, but at the end of the day it was up to the community to do that,” Mr Marsh said.

The building was listed in April 2013, and the share offer was issued shortly after with the help of community enterprise Microgenius, who offered their help for free to test its systems. £130,000 was raised, with the majority of investors from the town but others from as far as London and Stratford. When the pub went up for sale, the group was ready to make a bid.

It is now ran by a board of directors, who employed a landlord to run the pub day to day.

Mr Marsh said: “It is very difficult to get people with all the skills we need, bearing in mind that everyone is doing it in their spare time.

“The difference between the Fox and Goose and other community pubs is that most were closed or close to closing - apart from a brief period of refurbishment, we were able to keep the pub open through the transition.

“We have built on what the Fox and Goose was - a quite unique pub. It was about real ale, it didn’t sell food or cask lagers, and that’s still out unique selling point, and that’s what makes the Fox important to us.”

Mr Marsh, a ranger for the National Trust, had been a regular at the pub for ten years, but his connection went back to the early 1990s, when he worked as a beer wholesale.

“When I moved to Hebden Bridge one of the first things I thought of was the Fox and Goose. I remembered the landlords name, despite it being such a long time ago. That’s the impact the place had - it’s special.

”The day we signed the contract was the culmination of two years of hard work, but then the real hard work was going to begin. There was a lot of excitement, but an element of fear.”

None of it could have been achieved without the Community Right to Bid, which Mr Marsh believes has the potential to “empower communities.”

He added: “They say there are three things to made a community, the church, the post office and pub, When you start losing them you lose part of the community.

“The legislation only works if the community gets together. It still needs testing but it gives communities power over their own lives and the power to make a difference.”

According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, The Fox and Goose is in a rare situation, as just eight assets had gone through the entire process of being listed, bought and then run by the community by February.

But in Yorkshire, many of the assets listed are pubs, and the legislation is being used increasingly to try to get the buildings into community ownership, so the figure could soon rise.

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) launched its List Your Local campaign last year and has since helped get more than 400 pubs listed as ACVs across the country.

CAMRA campaigns manager Claire Cain said: “It can be a hard battle for communities fighting to save their local pubs from being demolished or redevelopment into flats or supermarkets.

“Listing a pub as an Asset of Community Value is a great tool to assist in this fight by showing your Council the value the pub has to local residents and warning off developers.”

But CAMRA believes the process could go much further, offering more protection to pubs.

Ms Cain added: “At present you can demolish a pub or convert it into a supermarket, betting shop or restaurant without planning permission and we would like to see ACV listed pubs valued in the same way as heritage listed buildings, with the same protections afforded so that planning permission is always required.”