Community ownership secures future of village shop and pub

The shop and the pub in a small village in Somerset have a secure future thanks to the efforts of the residents and support from a programme to support community ownership.

Until recently Stoke St Gregory, near Taunton, had two pubs and an independent shop. In late 2017 the parish council learned that both pubs were under threat of closure and that the future of the shop was similarly uncertain. After extensive community consultation the parish council developed a long-term plan to bring the larger and more central of the two pubs into community ownership and to use it to accommodate the shop and a cafe as well as the traditional pub. They got the Royal Oak registered as a Asset of Community Value and set up a community benefit society to raise investment and buy the building.

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.

The community share issue raised £206,000 from 254 investors who were almost entirely local residents. Together with the grant and loan from More Than A Pub, the community was able to buy the Royal Oak, and the purchase was completed on 26 August 2020.

The pub has been closed since lockdown started in March but the business of the village shop, which the society had previously purchased, has been very busy. The shop has been running from a converted shipping container located beside the village hall and moving it into larger premises within the Royal Oak is a very high priority.

Graham Gleed, chair of the Heart of the Village society, said: “The community shop has been a lifeline during the coronavirus pandemic and sales have much higher than normal. We really need more space to satisfy the needs of the community.”

After some essential renovation and repair to the building, the shop and café will open for business from the Royal Oak in September, and the pub itself is expected to reopen in October.

Tim Coomer, Business Development Manager of Co-operative & Community Finance, said: “We are delighted to be able to support HOTV, by combining the shop and the pub in one central location they are creating a true community hub that will become the beating heart of the village.”