With help from the More than a Pub Programme worth £3.6m, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and Power to Change, a much-loved pub in the heart of a Sheffield suburb is now under community ownership following a 12-month long campaign by locals to save it.
The Gardeners Rest at Neepsend looked set to be put on the open market after the owners, Eddy Munnelly and Pat Wilson, announced their intention to sell up for a quieter life on a narrow boat. When pub regulars heard of this news, they formed a working committee to investigate the prospect of community purchase.
Since then, a determined group of locals set up a Community Benefit Society, The Gardeners Rest Community Society Ltd, and rose over £236,000 through a community share offer. More than 400 people invested between £100 and £5,000 to become Society members – and democratic owners – of the pub.
The group has received advice on community engagement and setting up a co-operative, including a £50,000 grant, from the More Than A Pub: The Community Pub Business Support programme, a two-year project delivered by Plunkett Foundation and established to help support community ownership of pubs in England. The Gardeners Rest will become the eighth community-owned pub to complete after receiving this support.
Mark Powell, a driving force behind The Gardeners Rest Community Society Ltd, said: “We are delighted with the support that we have received and proud that more than 400 people have invested in the opportunity to preserve our unique, riverside local. We will do our best to provide good ale, fine art, live music and a first class friendly service. Everyone will be welcome at The Gardeners Rest.”
Nicole Hamilton, Head of Frontline at Plunkett Foundation, said: “We’re thrilled to see the community finally taking ownership of The Gardeners Rest after running it as leasehold since April. This will enable the Gardeners Rest Community Society Ltd to put their full plans in place and provide an important social space giving the community a sense of place and identity. We wish them every success.”
Jenny Sansom, Programmes Manager at Power To Change, said: “This is wonderful news. The Gardeners Rest will stay in the community, in the hands of the people who value it most. Crucially, the pub will now offer more than just pints. Local people will have space to hire for their own community events, and The Gardeners Rest will look to offer job opportunities to people in danger of slipping out of the workforce.”
Community Pubs Minister Jake Berry said: “Our Great British Pubs are the heart of many communities, providing thousands of jobs and boosting our economy by £21billion per year. I hope the residents of Neepsend will celebrate their success with a pint at The Gardeners Rest after securing its future through the More Than a Pub programme.”
The group has ambitious plans to develop The Gardeners Rest into a community hub with services and facilities beyond the traditional role of a local pub. Proposals include providing learning and employment opportunities to adults with learning disabilities and mental health issues. As well as introducing new services, they look set to ensure The Gardeners Rest continues to be a music venue with guest performers, as well as an activity centre and a place for local artists and photographers to exhibit their work.
Pubs saved in this way are viable and sustainable forms of businesses; ownership is widespread and democratic, and they tend to be run by full-time managers or tenants.