As It Happens

Folks in this British village are rallying together to save their only pub

There's only one pub left standing in Stonesfield, England, and it's up for sale. So community members are joining forces in the hopes of buying it and keeping it open.

'Every village needs a pub,' says Stonesfield resident Steve Callaghan. 'It's the hub of the community'

Steve Callaghan is heading up efforts to have the residents of Stonesfield, England, pool their resources and buy their local pub to prevent it from closing. (Stonesfield Community Benefit Society)

Transcript

When Steve Callaghan first moved to Stonesfield, England, he scoped out the village for three essential things: a school, a shop and a pub.

Now, 25 years later, there's only one pub left standing in the British village of 1,500, and it's up for sale. So he and other community members are joining forces in the hopes of buying it and keeping it open. 

"Every village needs a pub. It's the hub of the community," Callaghan told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"If you run out of milk, you don't want to not have a shop. If you've got kids, you've got send them to the local school. And if you want a good community, you need a pub."

'Inclusive' community ownership 

The White Horse tavern is a real traditional British pub. The two-storey, brick-and-stone establishment served its first beer in 1853 and has long been a fixture of the community.

According to the New York Times, which first reported the story, there were once seven pubs in the West Oxfordshire town. 

But over the years they've shuttered one after another, following a nationwide trend of pubs being demolished or converted into private homes.

The White Horse was the last survivor, and in July, owner John Lloyd put it up for sale. 

The White Horse tavern, the last pub standing in Stonesfield, is up for sale. (backthewhitehorse.com)

That's when Callaghan and his neighbours formed the Stonesfield Community Benefit Society, which is working to raise the asking price of £395,000 ($685,830.61 Cdn). 

The group was successful in getting local council to designate the building an "asset of community value," which puts a six-month moratorium on any potential sale, giving residents the opportunity to scoop it up. 

The group is selling potential shares of the pub for £50 ($86.81 Cdn) apiece. Callaghan says some people are buying one share each, while others are investing big money. 

"We wanted to have the ownership of the pub to be as inclusive as possible. We didn't want anybody to feel that they were excluded," he said.

He wouldn't disclose how much they've raised so far, but says they're close to reaching the asking price.

A hard sale 

But that doesn't necessarily mean they'll get the pub.

Lloyd told the Times that he already has a prospective buyer lined up — a real estate developer — and he thinks the townsfolk have "zero probability" of raising the money before the moratorium runs out.

But Callaghan is holding out hope.

"If we can raise the money, then any property developer who wants to buy the pub would have a problem because he would then not be able to prove to the council that the pub was no longer viable, which is a requirement if you're going to have a change of use," he said.

The White Horse tavern is a hub of the community, says Callaghan. (backthewhitehorse.com)

Plus, he thinks the community pub model makes a lot of sense from a business perspective.

"I think, probably, it is the way forward. There are more and more community pubs cropping up, which means that the community is actually investing in the pub," he said.

"If you're thinking, 'Well, I own a part of that pub,' you're much more likely to go down there. And when you buy a pint, that money's going towards a business that you own."

Still, Callaghan and the other members of the Stonesfield Community Benefit Society have no intentions of actually running the pub, should they acquire it. 

They plan to find a tenant who can manage the business, pay rent and live on the premises.

They're also hoping to expand the business by selling coffee and cakes for the daytime crowd and the many hikers and cyclists who make their way through the community. 

"So we're going to look for tenants who would have the same vision and run it the way we want," Callaghan said.

Like most people in Stonesfield, Callaghan has a lot of memories associated with the White Horse — and he hopes to make many more.

"I've been to so many parties there people have had — you know, big birthdays there. There's been music in there, fantastic times," he said. 

Asked what he imagines their opening night would look like, Callaghan replied: "I'd say messy. Messy, Carol. That's what it's going to be like."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Steve Callaghan produced by Tomas Urbina. 

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