The Vibrant Evolution of Community-Owned Pubs: A Call to Action

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In a remote part of the west Highlands of Scotland, a quaint pub perches on the edge of the Knoydart peninsula. Overlooking the serene waters of Loch Nevis and the verdant hills around it, The Old Forge serves as the bustling center of Inverie, a tight-knit community of approximately 120 permanent inhabitants. To reach this secluded pub, one must embark on a 30-minute ferry ride from the nearest port or endure a strenuous two-day hike.

What sets this local establishment apart is its unique community-owned status. Transitioning to community ownership in March 2022, The Old Forge now belongs to the locals, who collectively manage its operations and decision-making processes. When news spread in January 2021 that the pub was up for sale, residents deliberated on acquiring it under joint ownership. After months of dedicated effort, they successfully reopened the doors in April 2022.

Stephanie Harris, the business development manager at the pub, acknowledges the significance of The Old Forge in a small community with limited social spaces. She emphasizes its role as a vital gathering spot for locals to socialize and connect. Furthermore, she highlights the remarkable panoramic views from the pub’s beer garden, encapsulating the breathtaking natural beauty of the surroundings.

While The Old Forge boasts its distinctiveness, it is part of a growing trend in the realm of community-owned pubs. According to the Plunkett Foundation, an organization supporting community-owned businesses, there are 174 such pubs in the UK as of January 2024. Furthermore, data from Co-Operatives UK reveals a 62.6% increase in the number of community-owned pubs over the past five years, a trend that aligns with the challenges faced by traditional pubs.

Despite the struggles plaguing the pub industry, community-owned pubs seem to flourish, boasting a 99% success rate according to The Plunkett Foundation. This model is not entirely novel, with The Red Lion in Preston, Hertfordshire, standing as Britain’s first community-owned pub since the early 1980s. Other notable examples include The Ivy House in Nunhead and The Rising Sun in Woodcroft, Chepstow, which clinched Camra’s Pub Saving Award in 2023 after a decade-long battle against developers.

Community pubs distinguish themselves through their focus on serving the local populace beyond offering a drink. The commitment to community engagement and inclusivity sets them apart, fostering social connections and enriching neighborhood cohesion. By leveraging various funding mechanisms such as crowdfunding, community shares, loans, and government grants, these establishments operate as not-for-profit entities, ensuring that any surplus funds are reinvested for the community’s benefit.

The essence of these community-owned pubs lies in their ability to foster connections and create a sense of belonging for all patrons. By embodying the spirit of togetherness and mutual support, these spaces transcend their role as mere drinking establishments, evolving into vibrant hubs that nourish and unite communities.

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