National Report Reveals Co-Operative Pubs Sector Continues To Thrive

With an impressive 15% annual growth in new businesses and 100% survival rate, the co-operative pubs sector looks set to grow in a market where an average of 29 pubs are closing each week. Co-operative pubs are flourishing where the private sector has failed because they are ‘more than a pub’ to the communities that own them. Numbers are set to increase significantly as a result of a £3.62m support programme launched in 2016.

These are some of the findings from a new report ‘Co-operative pubs: A better form of business’ which provides the most comprehensive research available on the performance and impact of co-operative pubs in the UK. Published on 5 July 2017 by Plunkett Foundation, the leading support organisation for co-operative pubs which has been promoting co-operation in rural communities for nearly 100 years.

The research shows that at the end of 2016:

  • The co‑operative pub sector had grown by 15% with six new pubs opening during 2016
  • 46 co‑operative pubs were open and trading, widely spread across England and Wales [the 50th co-operative pub set to start trading in June/July 2017]
  • 90 groups were actively exploring setting up a co-operative pub
  • More than 2,000 pubs had been registered as an Asset of Community Value in England
  • No co‑operative pub has closed maintaining an impressive 100% survival rate

In tracing the growth of this sector, the report notes two significant boosts to development. The first was the introduction of the Localism Act in 2011 that allowed communities to register pubs as Assets of Community Value. The second was the launch in March 2016 of the More than a Pub: The Community Pub Business Support Programme funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Power to Change Trust. Plunkett Foundation received 145 enquiries in 2016 from communities exploring community ownership of their local pub.

All co-operative pubs are independent democratic organisations owned and ultimately controlled by their members on the basis of one member one vote, regardless of the number of shares owned. At the end of 2016 over 9,000 people had shares in co-operative pubs. Members elect a voluntary board to oversee the strategic direction of the business and to determine how the pub is managed and who manages it. About a quarter of co-operative pubs have recruited a tenant to run the business and pay rent, while most manage the business directly with a combination of paid staff and volunteers. 28% of co‑operative pubs benefit from volunteers in the day to day running of the business.

The primary motivation for setting up a co-operative pub is to save an existing pub from closure and possible redevelopment. However, all the co-operative pubs surveyed have taken the opportunity to explore additional services and facilities to meet the needs of the community and to generate income.

Typical services hosted by co‑operative pubs include:

  • Restaurant, cafes, school dinners and lunch clubs
  • Shop, postal and bill paying services
  • Libraries, book exchange
  • Allotments and community gardens
  • Meeting rooms for community use and external hire
  • Spin-off local clubs and societies
  • Traditional indoor and outdoor games
  • Live music, entertainment, festivals and community events
  • Holiday accommodation and affordable housing
  • Adult education and training

Nicole Hamilton, Head of Frontline at Plunkett Foundation, said: “For me, the most valuable learnings in this report are how these businesses, through the leadership of locally rooted people go about meeting the needs of their communities and establishing a service offering that really is so much more than a pub. From the start-up phase to the running of the pub, these businesses involve large numbers of people from the membership, committees, volunteers, staff and customers. They bring people together of all ages, backgrounds, interests, and give them a purpose to interact.”

‘Co-operative pubs: A better form of business’ is based on data sourced from the Financial Conduct Authority and Companies House, electronic questionnaires and follow-up telephone surveys, and additional information held by Plunkett Foundation on every co-operative pub going back over five years. The data collection, analysis, and written report were undertaken by Plunkett Foundation and supported by data provided by Co‑operatives UK. This work was funded by The Power to Change Research Institute.

Nicole Hamilton added: “I would like to thank the many people involved in co-operative pubs who contributed to this report by taking part in surveys, sending photographs, and telling their stories. We also thank our funders and partners who help us to sustain our service for co-operative pubs.”

Plunkett Foundation represents a network of over 500 rural community co-operatives that are trading in all parts of the UK. It supports these organisations to thrive and helps new ones to get started. It aims to grow this sector by raising awareness of the co-operative model to more communities, and to reach geographic areas and individuals most in need.