Published: February 5, 2015
Norton Community Pub rescued by social investment, community owned business structure and voluntary passion
A thriving local pub faced extinction by a housing developer that bought the land it was sitting on in 2007, so the community in the Essex village of Cold Norton was galvanised into action to save the last pub in the village.
This danger is reflective of many public houses across the UK. Four pubs are closing every week and many more are being lost to ‘The Gastropub’.
With the support of the council, the demolition of this humble local was blocked and ruling imposed stating the building must continue to function as a pub.
Seven years later, and thanks to the consistent dedication of a passionate community, this family friendly village pub has secured its long-term future and is a successfully run community enterprise with full ownership of the property.
The rescue was made possible by a £175,000 loan facility from Unity Trust Bank, a specialist bank that supports social economy organisations that have a positive impact in their local communities. The local community also put their money where their mouth was raising £125,000 through a community share offer.
Debbie Guppy, Director and Chair of Norton’s management committee, said: “Over the years we’ve run the pub on a voluntary basis and then we set up the industrial provident society to enable shares to be purchased. Village volunteers, many of whom became part owners of the pub, kept the business afloat but with the high rates of rent imposed by the landlord, it was impossible to invest in the business or think long term. To survive and grow, we knew we must purchase the pub building.”
After many negotiations the landlord agreed to sell the building to the Norton Community Pub at £285,000 after completing outlined refurbishments and extending the building to provide room for a restaurant. The landlord would withhold some of the land, then used as a car park, to build three new houses, and two further houses will be built on land previously occupied by obsolete buildings. These homes will be suitable for first time buyers.
The committee of Norton Community Pub approached Unity Trust Bank initially back in September 2012 for a £175,000 loan to help meet this deal, the value of which was based on trading figures since 2010, while also using the funds raised from the successful community share issue.
Following 18 months of refurbishment, its community shareholders now finally own Norton Community Pub with Unity Trust Bank having a legal charge over the property as a result of their financing.
Sean Taylor, Relationship Manager for Unity Trust Bank, said: “Pubs are great British businesses and play a key part in the local community infrastructure, supporting the local economy with job creation and social cohesion. We are aware of vast numbers of them having to close, so were really pleased to support Norton in the final stages of buying what is clearly deemed a community asset. The Cold Norton community has shown such passion and patience in all their hard work to save the Norton that Unity was immediately attracted to the organisation.
“We are seeing a resurgence of community owned business structures in conjunction with the localism agenda since the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014. These registered societies have at their core the values of our Bank; they are centred on the importance of community development, helping to meet local needs and enable social change.”
Debbie Guppy continued: “We identified Unity as a bank we would want to work with very early on. There is an attraction to using a bank like that rather than the big banks that don’t really understand you. Unity was flexible and easy to deal with, understanding all the way that this was our hobby not just our jobs.
“For the first time in over six years the Norton can now look beyond the next month and plan for an exciting future. The Norton is more than just a boozer; the community is at the heart of everything, from the volunteers to our local breweries who we proudly support. Keeping the pub open will keep this village alive. This investment means we can now look ahead to a prosperous and exciting 2015.”
The implementation of the restaurant has given rise to a full time chef and the development of an apprenticeship scheme to join the kitchen staff. The pub continues to have a core of 30 volunteers who run and manage it alongside its growing permanent staff.