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13-03-2017, 12:33
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Congratulations to the George & Dragon (https://whatpub.com/pubs/YNW/070/george-dragon-hudswell) at Hudswell in North Yorkshire on being chosen as CAMRA’s National Pub of the Year for 2017 (http://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/Drinks/Beer/CAMRA-names-community-pub-saved-by-locals-Pub-of-the-Year). A significant point about this pub is that it was saved from closure a few years ago through being bought by the local community. As commercial operators continue to shed what they view as “marginal” pubs, this is a model of ownership that is going to become ever more common in the future.
However, no community group should assume that their troubles are over once they have bought their pub – indeed, the challenge is only just beginning. Obviously a community pub doesn’t have to pay rent or interest charges, so may not need to make the same margin as a commercial operation, but will still need to be run as a profitable business. The owners are unlikely to want to stump up more money every year to subsidise losses.
There’s always the risk of ending up with a “horse designed by a committee” if the owners are allowed too much say in the details of day-to-day operations. There may be a conflict of interest between those who want to turn it into some kind of community centre, as opposed to a more conventional pub operation. There could, for example, be a difference of opinion about the admission of children.
Does the community group actually want to run the pub business on their own account, or let it out to a tenant? And should the pub be run on a low-key basis as a “local pub for local people”, maybe with limited hours, or should it be more ambitious and do more to attract trade from other areas, which carries more potential reward, but also more risk? The licensee at the George & Dragon is described as “manager” – does that mean he is a salaried employee?
And, the most thorny question of all, what is going to happen if community owners reluctantly conclude that, at the end of the day, there is no way that their pub can be made viable? This is inevitably going to happen somewhere, at some time, and there could be heated debate about who stands to benefit.
This is not to say that most community-owned pubs don’t have a promising future, but nobody should delude themselves that everything will be plain sailing.
Incidentally, it’s good to see that, despite being in a small village, the George & Dragon manages to open at lunchtimes seven days a week.
I will declare an interest here, as I have a small stake in Ye Olde Vic (https://whatpub.com/pubs/MAS/4345/olde-vic-stockport) in Stockport, which is owned by a community group. However, the situation here is untypical, as the problem was that the previous owner wished to dispose of the freehold. The pub continues in business with the same tenant and the same business model as before. I don’t, to be honest, expect any return on my contribution, but it does raise the issue of whether my heirs will inherit my stake. And, if it was CPO’d by the local council, would I stand to benefit?


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