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Troubled British Pubs are taken over by local patrons: NPR



The Packhorse is a pub in the village of South Stoke, in West England. Villagers came together to buy back the pub after it had been sold for development in residential and office space.

Frank Langfitt / NPR


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Packhorse is a pub in the village of South Stoke, in West England. Villagers came together to buy back the pub after it had been sold for development in residential and office space.

Frank Langfitt / NPR

The Packhorse pub sits in the small village of South Stoke in the west of England, among rolling hills with pastures. For more than half a century, it played a crucial role in the village and marked milestones in the lives of local families.

Gerard Coles, who was born half a mile from the pub and now breaks cider near, started coming to Packhorse when he was 15 years old, and sometimes with the school teacher for lunch.

"Chapen who came to put in our new gas nest, said he was perceived in the backyard," recalled Trevor John, a retired accountant, who has lived here for nearly 30 years.

But in 2012, Punch Taverns, a company that owns around 1,300 pubs across the UK, sold the package that could be converted into housing and office space.

It's a familiar story. Pubs are constantly approaching in the UK, victims of changing lifestyles and the rising value of real estate. In fact, the locals say that Packhorse would be worth twice as much as housing and office space as a pub.

(Left to Right) Dom Moorhouse, an entrepreneur, Gerard Coles, who makes cider and Trevor John, a retired accountant, is part of "Save the Packhorse", a team of villagers who raised more $ 1.3 million to buy and revise their local pub, after converting it to housing and office space.

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(left to right) Dom Moorhouse, an entrepreneur, Gerard Coles, who makes cider, and Trevor John, a retired accountant, is part of "Save the Packhorse", a team of villagers who raised more $ 1.3 Millions to buy and overtake their local pub, after converting it into residential and office space.

Frank Langfitt / NPR

But villagers feared without Packhorse, there would be no place in town for people to gather. So in 2012, John, Coles and others in the village created a grassroots campaign called "Save the Packhorse." They set out to preserve the pub and eventually raised funds to buy it.

"You are destroying a small community of a place like this, which is the only communal hub, and you just take their heart," said Dom Moorhouse, a contractor who helped lead the effort.

Since 2012, nearly 80 community groups across the UK have purchased their local pubs, according to the Plunkett Foundation, a charity that includes grants and counseling communities on how to buy and run pubs.

"There is great demand," said James Alcock, Plunket's CEO. "We're currently working on just shy of 250 communities that are somewhere along the process of setting up a community-owned pub."

Alcock said that all the pubs community groups have purchased over the past seven years, are still in operation. But as Redd Packhorse discovered, it takes a lot of planning, work and money.

Packhorse was neglected for decades and the backyard became a jungle. Village volunteers spent hundreds of hours clearing and upgrading it in advance of the pub's reopening last year.

Frank Langfitt / NPR


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Packhorse was neglected for decades and the backyard became a jungle. The village volunteers spent hundreds of hours clearing and re-graduating it in advance of the pub's reopening last year.

Frank Langfitt / NPR

Volunteers spent the first several years fighting a planning of the new owner to convert the building to residential and office use. They found a local policy that said the new owner could only convert the pub to another use if he could prove that the property was no longer economically viable as a pub.

Then, the villagers Packhorse had listed as a community resource that forced the owner to give them six months to organize a competitive bid to buy the building after he decided to put it back on the market. Moorhouse said voluntary colored South Stoke, just outside the city of Bath, onwards, looking for investors, selling shares for $ 650 each.

"Lots of banging on doors, lots of email messages, lots of coffee meetings," Moorhouse recalled. "A few weeks before the deadline date we had to raise 525,000 pounds [nearly $690,000]. We were, I think, about 50,000 pounds short and sweat it, really, really sweat it."

In the last 24 hours Packhacken exceeded his goal. The group now had enough money to buy the pub, but needed even more to overtake it. After decades of neglect, Packhorse was a wreck. Inside the stone building, which dates back to the 18th century, the paint was peeled off, there were holes in the walls and some windows were aboard.

"The owners had removed everything," reminded John. "All radiators were gone, the plumbing work was gone, the electricity went off and the floors fell through."

Volunteers spent hundreds of hours clearing the brush and moving 15 tons of soil to characterize the back garden, which was so overgrown you could barely see the pub's first floor. They then removed the building's interior where they discovered a ruined ancient 18th-century fireplace, hidden behind plasterboard . A stent mother from restored it for free.

A snowy day last year showed the number of villagers and adheres to Packhorse. Brian Perkins, whose family once had run the pub and who had been born there in 1930, snatched a ribbon and reopened Packhorse.

If it runs an English pub, it sounds romantic, it is not. You compete against everything from cheaper supermarket beer to Netflix. But Moorhouse says one important reason why people here patronize Packhorse is because society owns it.

"We now have 430 people who want it to work," Moorhouse said, referring to the pub's many shareholders. "They are our marketers."

South Stoke is a small village just outside the city of Bath in western England.

Frank Langfitt / NPR


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Frank Langfitt / NPR

South Stoke is a small village just outside the city of Bath in western England.

Frank Langfitt / NPR

About a year later Packhorse looks good. The pub offers weekly live music, including folk musicians and pub singles. The business plan called Packhorse to win a profit after two years, and the organizers say the performance is ahead of schedule.

During a visit to warmer weather, the rear garden was almost full. Adge Secker, a retired police officer, had fish and chips on a picnic table with his wife.

"We love it!" said Secker. "It's a great country pub. You can have … lunch together and a pint of cider, a glass of wine in the lovely Somerset countryside. What's better than that!"

NPR producer Samuel Alwyine-Mosely contributed to this story.


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