Churchill’s White House saved by community buyout

[photo by Ed Nix taken at the start of the campaign in October 2019]

The last remaining pub in the historic village of Bladon, Oxfordshire, has been saved by the local community.

The White House has a strong connection one of Britain’s most famous and controversial leaders. Sir Winston Churchill, who was born in nearby Blenheim Palace, is said to have drunk his first pint there and his final resting place is the graveyard opposite.

The 17th century building was put up for sale in September 2019 and its status as an Asset of Community Value meant that the community had six months to raise the money to put in a bid to buy and manage the future of the pub.

“We were worried that the pub would be sold for development and so formed our own war cabinet to save the White House. We held many events and it was clear that the community was behind the bid,” said Mike Edwards, one of the directors of Bladon Community Benefit Society.

The group received support from the More Than A Pub programme, which provides free advice and webinars, bursaries, grants and loans to communities seeking to buy their local, as well as those who are already trading. The programme is funded by Power to Change and is delivered by Plunkett Foundation working in partnership with Co-operative & Community Finance and the Key Fund.

After six months of relentless campaigning, Bladon Community Benefit Society had over 450 shareholders and had raised more than £330,000 in shares. Although 90% of shareholders come from Bladon and the surrounding villages, press coverage also sent the pub’s cause around the globe and shares were purchased from as far away as Australia. The community shares, together with the grant and loan from More Than A Pub, enabled to the society to make an offer to purchase The White House. The community were handed the keys to their pub on 23 July 2020.

After refurbishment the pub will offer a whole host of services including a café, shop and meeting place for many groups. The search for a tenant is underway and a plan for essential renovations has been drawn up. If all goes well, The White House will reopen in September 2020.

“It was a real community effort and even the global coronavirus pandemic didn’t stand in our way. These unprecedented times have boosted Bladon’s community spirit even further. We can’t wait to raise a socially distanced glass with our fellow shareholders and supporters!” said Rachel Guest, another director of the society.

Ian Rothwell, Investment Manager of Co-operative & Community Finance, said: “This is another example of a successful community pub buyout. Bladon Community Benefit Society has a lot going for it. There is a lot of community support, and there are some very skilled people on the board of directors. Add to that the enormous tourist potential of the Churchill connection, and I think The White House has a secure future that will benefit the local community.”

The group also learned first-hand from the experiences of the Abingdon Arms in Beckley which is 11 miles away and has been community owned since 2016. Rachel Guest said: “They have been really helpful, giving us their advice and experience about everything. There is a strong network of support among community pubs. In fact we have been contacted by people in a village very nearby who would like to buy their local.”