The Village With No Pub

Both pubs in our village have closed. One of them, The Crown, has been put up for sale by the landlord (it’s with Fleurets) and the tenants have moved out. It overlooks the village green and is next to the church with some parking on the green itself.

It’s small, though, with no more than 40 covers. It would need more than £750,000 to extend into a courtyard and a large storage/meeting building at the rear. It would also need a lot of patience and determination as it’s listed and our village isn’t particularly keen on change.

It has crossed my mind to sell our house and buy it as we have run five pubs in the past but with the excellent Betsey Wynne down the road – owned by Oakman Inns and Restaurants – we would be up against stiff competition. It probably doesn’t help that we have been agitators for change in the village, and I can’t say I am keen on running a pub dependent on customers who aren’t – it doesn’t feel like a recipe for success.

So there is a sense of unease about what will happen to the pub. Its not really viable as a going concern – the last tenant also had a part-time job and a catering company – it can’t return a decent ROI on the required level of spending, the village won’t want it to become a house and its unlikely, considering its listed status, to acquire planning permission anyway. While we didn’t go to the pub a lot, it was at the heart of the village and it’s disheartening to drive past it and see all the lights out and the pub in darkness.

The pub closest to us, The Swan, was bought by Charles Wells just after we moved into the village and has had a succession of tenants, some more successful than others. It’s on the main village road but has room for tables outside, a car park, an enclosed pretty garden and two bars. Last time I looked it had a rent of £35,000 so would realistically need to turn over more than £5,000 a week to be profitable. The fact so many people have tried to make a go of it suggests this is unachievable.

We hear, as you do through village gossip, that Charles Wells has sold the freehold and the new owners want to turn it into private housing. They could probably get two-to-three houses on the site if the village elders allow them. We last heard permission had been refused.

So what now for the village with no pub? Both pubs have tried at different times to be intrinsic to the community by supporting events, fetes, jubilees, sports teams, weddings, birthday parties, pensioners’ meals, quiz nights, feast nights, carol singing, wakes, christenings, village societies and advertising regularly in the village magazine. Could they have tried harder? Perhaps. Could we have all made a real effort to go once a month at least? Maybe. Could we have gone to one of them instead of the Betsey Wynne – well, no, because the whole experience there is so much better.

Of course, therein lies the rub and it’s a debate we need to have. What exactly does it mean for a pub to be part of the community? Is it really possible? What do they have to be and do to deliver that promise?

We don’t go to the Betsey Wynne instead of the pubs in our village for a sense of community, we go because it’s consistent, the service is friendly and efficient, the environment is lovely, and the food is great. It also has a big, well-lit car park and fantastic outside space. We don’t even ask one another where we are going when we go out – we just go there because it’s always good.

I feel sorry we don’t have a pub operating in the village and I suspect neither of them will reopen as a pub, despite what the village wants. We have chosen consistency over community and that feels a really harsh thing to have done now the lights are out in both pubs.

Written by Ann Elliott.