Dear friends of Stonesfield Community Pub.
I am sorry I have not been able to communicate much recently as I am sure you are very eager for an update from us.
Over the past few weeks, we have continued to try to gain a better understanding of the status of the sale of The White Horse and its future to share with you. The information we have is still very limited, but what follows is a summary of where we are.
The preferred bidder has been confirmed as Jonathan Bowers, who we were introduced to by the current owner in September. We have been told that he plans to run The White Horse as a pub. To be honest though, our own research shows that he has had a number of property development companies over the years and that seems to have been the main focus of his professional life.
We have made a number of attempts to contact both the current owner to see if he would consider a higher offer and Mr Bowers to open a channel of communication about the pub’s future, but this not had any positive effect so far.
So, for now we have little option but to wait. Our professional adviser and the Plunkett Foundation tell us this situation is not unusual. Many other community groups have found themselves in similar circumstances. Community purchases are often long and drawn out, sometimes over years. Often, the enthusiasm of community campaigns has actually ignited new interest in pubs from commercial operators. However, their efforts to tap into local support tend to fail and after a few years the community finds itself again with an owner looking to convert the village pub into housing.
The community groups that succeed are those that remain focused on their goal of saving the pub. They persist with their campaigns and retain the support and financial backing of their communities. Importantly, they have both the organisation in place and the funds available if and when a new opportunity to bid for the pub arises or they need to prove local support to oppose planning permission.
The following community groups are examples of those that kept going over an extended period and are now either the owner of their local pub, or in the process of buying it:
· The Bosville Arms at Rudston was owned by a property developer wanted to develop the property. He would not even talk to the community group that wanted to buy it. The group continued to raise funds and eventually were able to offer the developer a fair price. The group would not have been in a position to buy the pub if they had not had funds available to move quickly when the owner eventually saw that the community were not going to back down and any plans to open the pub or develop the site were not going to be either commercially lucrative or granted planning permission. The group bought the property last summer and are completing on a lease with a new tenant.
· The Railway at Saffron Walden. Owner Charles Wells had closed the pub and put it on the market. On discovering the community were interested he decided to reopen the pub. After unsuccessfully looking for a tenant and proposing an unworkable offering, the pub returned to market and was bought by the community group against a raft of developers who were planning on building houses on the site. The group not only maintained financial backing over the period but even increased the number of investors. If they had not done this they would not have been in a position to buy when the property came back onto the market. The sale was completed in September 2020.
· The Plough at Longparish was privately owned and the owner was looking to develop the property. The community group put offers in on the site but they were not accepted. The group persisted, kept fundraising, and are now purchasing the property.
· The Lowther Arms at Mawbray in Cumbria raised funds to buy their local pub. The relationship between owner and community was not good and either a sale to a third party or development was the preferred option for the owner. The community group maintained their presence and continued to fundraise. They eventually agreed a price and had the funds to immediately act on the offer. They are currently in the process of buying the property.
So, the message is clear – there is still hope, but we have to be prepared to stay in it for the long term. As a committee, we are still committed to ensuring Stonesfield has a thriving pub at the heart of our community for the long-term. We want to be ready and able to buy the pub if we can or prove there is a viable community alternative if a change of use application is made.
The backing we have received from you all has been tremendous and we are very grateful to everyone for their contributions of time, effort and money. Now, as we wait to see what the future holds for The White Horse, we need and very much hope you will stick with us, over what might be an extended period, and we all look forward to the day when we can meet again and raise a glass together in our village pub.
I will try to keep you up to date with developments as they unfold in the meantime.
Thank you all for your continued support.
Stonesfield Community Pub