Beloved Somerset pub marks five years since community ‘found a way’ to save it | UK News

On the day of the grand reopening of the Packhorse exactly five years ago, it snowed heavily. “Boy did it snow,” said Phil Legard, one of hundreds of shareholders who together had raised more than a million pounds to save the beloved pub near Bath.

“At 9 a.m. the village was isolated and the first thing we had to do was organize a team of people to grab their shovels and dig so our first customers could actually get here,” Legard said. “But that’s what it’s all about. Community spirit, finding a way.

The weather for this weekend’s anniversary – a fiesta of drinking, music and tasting birthday cakes – was warmer and villagers reflected on the value of the 400-year-old pub to the community. “We don’t have a post office or a village store,” Legard said. “The pack horse is therefore vital. The pub is the hub.

At a time when pubs continue to close at a rate of more than 30 a month in England and Wales, the story of the Packhorse – which shareholders have touted as the biggest community takeover scheme in the history of British pubs – is as joyful as the fires that burned through chimneys this anniversary weekend.

In 2012, the South Stoke pub was closed and reserved for accommodation, but villagers fought back. The pub lovers raised money to buy the building and donated their know-how and skills to restore it and turn it into a working business.

Since reopening, its customers have consumed more than 1,000 kegs of real ale and cider, 16,000 bottles of wine, nearly 30,000 bags of chips, 13,600 plates of fish and chips and 14,000 Sunday roasts. During the Covid closures, the pub distributed vegetables and flour and organized virtual concerts.

Their annual sales total around £500,000 but margins are tight and last financial year the pub made a profit before depreciation of a modest £20,000. Depreciation of equipment and assets is only that amount – £20,000 per year.

Making money was never the goal, but it has to pay its way. “The pub doesn’t need to make a lot of profit to be sustainable, but the business side needs to work to have a long-term future,” said Dom Moorhouse, one of the project managers. When asked about plans for the future, the answer was simple: continue for another five years, then another, and so on.

The key seems to be a professional, motivated and happy staff overseen by a group of caring volunteer leaders. The Packhorse is fortunate to have talented residents with entrepreneurial expertise and the time and resources to lend a hand.

The Packhorse receives regular approaches from other villagers who see community ownership as the only model for keeping a beloved pub alive. “We hope to be a point of reference, a source of inspiration for other places,” said Moorhouse. “It’s an incredible place of social connection. This village could be a dying retirement home without it.

Diana Cochran, whose roles include events co-ordinator, bar worker and – far from the pub – volunteer nurse, unrolls the pub’s busy diary. They host charity coffee mornings, a book club, movie night, quizzes, regular concerts, art workshops, an apple pressing party and even a music festival, PackStock.

The pub prides itself on employing around 12 people who are local and keen to develop their skills, taking them on courses and apprenticeships.

Assistant manager Molly Cross said she joined the team ‘because I wanted to be Peggy Mitchell’ [the redoubtable boss of the Queen Vic in the BBC soap EastEnders] – and I loved the pub. “I grew up here and around. I remember riding bikes to the Packhorse with my dad and throwing pennies in the wishing well.

She likes work, pleasure, even ghosts. “There are at least three or four. You do not seem them but there are inexplicable events. The pub is lovely but it’s the people that make it so special. That’s what it’s all about in the end. »

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