According to the Campaign for Real Ale, 22 pubs have closed in the county in the past five years. Big chain breweries forcing their tenants to buy certain kinds of beer, increasing rents and changes in our drinking habits have all been blamed.

But an increasing number of communities are putting their foot down and refusing to let their beloved local go the same way as the rest. Reporter Pete Hughes spoke to a few of the villagers who have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy their own pub

One night in January last year, 30 people squeezed into The Red Lion at Northmoor for an emergency village meeting.

Days before, the pub’s owner Greene King had announced it was going to sell the beloved local.

It was parish council chairman Graham Shelton who organised the rally, and he even prepared a slideshow to show residents just how quickly their local could become yet another housing estate.

At the end of the meeting, the 30 people who had watched the presentation pledged £100,000 on the spot to save The Red Lion.

It is just one example of the passion and love that the people of Oxfordshire have for their village pub.

Mr Shelton and a team of seven business-savvy villagers went on to secure £300,000 from 90 villagers and they bought The Red Lion in March.

A year on and business is thriving.

Mr Shelton said: “The Red Lion is an exceptional pub.

“They have four draught bitters on tap, which are nicely looked after, and the food is all freshly-prepared every day with a clear emphasis on providing good meals.”

But he also warned buying a village pub was not for the faint-hearted.

He said: “If you’re going to do it, you have to carry the community with you.

“I would say a critical thing is finding the money in time: you need the money and you need it fast.

“Another critical factor is having a knowledgeable team.”

Mr Shelton was lucky. His team included a former Oxford restaurant owner, a former property firm owner and a former wine merchant – he could not have hoped for a more experienced group.

They formed a private limited company, The Northmoor Lion Ltd, and put together a pitch to persuade villagers to invest.

The pitch worked as residents gave the company cheques ranging from £250 to £50,000.

Mr Shelton added: “They all had the same vision of a vibrant pub in their village and I’m happy to say a year later that is what we have got.”

The company’s luck continued when they put out adverts for tenants and had 30 expressions of interest from across the county.

In the end, they settled on Ian Neale, 33, and Lisa Lyne, 35, who had been running a pub in Newbury and took over the reins last April.

Summarising the past year’s efforts, Mr Shelton said: “You’ll get every shade of opinion, but I would say do it. We achieved our dream and not many people can say that.”

CAMRA Oxford branch chairman Tony Goulding said his group would always support communities who wanted to take the plunge He said: “The main thing about all these community pubs is once you’ve invested, you’ll go more often. We find that people who haven’t been to their pub in 20 years will start coming once a month when they own a bit of it.”

He said the most important thing when buying a pub was to make sure the money was in place.

He warned: “If you’re borrowing, borrow carefully.”

Villagers rally to save their historic pub

Oxford Mail:
ACCEPTED: The Plough in West Hanney

Villagers in West Hanney have already had their bid to buy their historic pub accepted by Punch Taverns.

Now they just need to get £310,000 together.

The brewery put the Church Street pub on the market for £375,000 in August, saying it was no longer one of their “strategic” assets.

West Hanney Parish Council got the building officially registered as an Asset of Community Value in November under the 2011 Localism Act.

That bought the village time to put in their own bid, as the brewery could not legally sell it to anyone else for six months.

A group managed to get pledges of £350,000 from around the village, so they put a formal bid for £310,000 and it was accepted in January.

Chris French, who registered a private limited company to lead the bid, said: “The first thing people felt was that a village without a pub is not a nice place to live.”

The group has a vision of running a traditional pub with real ale and freshly-cooked food for the Hanneys’ 2,000 residents.

Mr French, 64, a retired banker who lives in the village with his wife, said: “The pledges aren’t secure at all, but we are extremely confident in them.”

The group will officially launch shares at a public meeting at the village hall on April 20, and give people 28 days to come up with the cash.

They are selling a total £400,000 worth of shares at £1 each, with a minimum subscription of 100 shares. The biggest single pledge so far is £50,000.

That total will enable them to pay for refurbishments and upgrades at the pub.

The group hopes to pay shareholders a four per cent dividend, but they will also hold a share in what they group hope will be an increasingly valuable asset.

If they get the money and the sale goes through, all they will need to do is find a tenant to run it.

Mr French added: “It’s certainly not easy because the responsibility to the village is great, but This is our village; our community; our pub.

“If we don’t do it – who will?”

‘We can do better’ with The Hare

Oxford Mail:
THE HARE: Roy Lennox, left, and Alan Durrance, committee member of Save The Hare

When Greene King announced it was selling The Hare in West Hendred, regulars decided they could do a better job of running the pub themselves.

The Reading Road pub has served up pints to villagers for almost 200 years, but in July last year the brewery shut the doors and put it on the market.

Villagers who feared the site could end up as a new housing estate decided they were not going to let that happen.

They got the inn registered as an Asset of Community Value, buying themselves precious time to raise the £425,000 needed to meet the asking price.

Villagers formed a not-for-profit company, the West Hendred Pub Company, and are now having surveys carried out at the pub to get a better idea of its real value.

They hope to put in their formal bid at the end of this month. Company director Roy Lennox said: “We have had a lot of pledges from people, our small village has been really supportive.”

The company is selling shares for £250 each and hopes to offer investors a six per cent return.

Group member Lysbeth Holdoway said: “People are rejecting the big pub companies and adopting their pubs.

“Everyone has memories of nights at The Hare, it has always been a big part of the community.

“It has been run down in recent years which is sad, but we think we can do a better job.”

Keeping it in the community

Community-owned pubs (current and in the process of being bought):
* The Seven Stars, Marsh Baldon
* The Plough, Great Haseley
* The Red Lion, Northmoor
* The Plough, West Hanney
* The Hare, West Hendred
* The Bull, Great Milton
* The White Hart, Wolvercote
* The Sadlers, New Yatt