First loan from new co-op pub support scheme

An ancient village inn, dating back to 1250, that had closed in December 2014, has become the first to benefit from a loan from a new scheme to support community ownership of pubs. On 28 February 2017 the Duke of Marlborough at Somersham near Ipswich was bought by a community benefit society with more than 230 members.

Somersham is a village of 316 households in a rural area that includes several villages and hamlets. There is a good culture of community activity including a successful community-owned shop, established in 2014. When the owners of the only pub in the village retired and closed the business, the local people were determined to save this vital and long-established heart of the community.

They received specialist advice and finance from the More Than A Pub programme, which was set up in 2016 to support community ownership of pubs in England. This two-year programme is funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and Power to Change, and is delivered by the Plunkett Foundation. Co-operative & Community Finance arranges loan finance for groups that have successfully attracted local investment, usually in the form of community shares. Somersham Community Pub Ltd is the first group receive a loan via Co-operative & Community Finance under this programme.

The community share issue for the Duke of Marlborough raised over £200,000. With the grant from More Than A Pub, and the loan from Co-operative & Community Finance, this was enough to proceed with the purchase of the pub. The Duke of Marlborough will re-open in April after some essential repairs. At first it will be run by volunteers but the group is planning to employ a manager and chef after the kitchen has been refurbished.

James Batchelor-Wylam, Chairman of Somersham Community Pub Ltd, said: “We raised the money, we negotiated the purchase and now we have the keys. That’s a massive milestone. This really is a huge achievement, made possible by the fantastic people who invested in shares – 230 of them so far, and numbers still rising! It’s not only the shareholders we have to thank. It’s also the many organisations and individuals who have given us time, advice, grants and support in kind.”

Tim Coomer, Business Development Manager of Co-operative & Community Finance, said: “I have been very impressed by the commitment, knowledge and skill of the people involved. The village already has a successful community shop and there is clearly local support for this type of enterprise. I expect this will be the first of many pubs that we will support under the More Than A Pub programme.”