Presenter Neil (PN): This is the story of a community saving their local pub.
Eddie Minelli (EM): When we first bought the place it was actually boarded up; it was closed and finished as a business. The brewery in Mansfield decided that there was nothing left for the pub. The industry was shutting down, people had moved out of the area.
PN: That was Eddie Munnelly, who, together with his wife, Pat Wilson, ran The Gardeners Rest in Sheffield. After 20 years they wanted to move on. By then they had made their mark on it, but Eddie and Pat set a challenge for whoever was interested in taking over.
EM: To keep it the same or similar for the customers, basically, that would be the best way forward, because they would become a corporate pub otherwise. It is quite a unique pub. It was made by us but was also a lot to do with the customers; the kinds of people who came in.
Vox Pop (VP): We always came down for the live music, and then we have made lots of friends here.
Mark Beckles Willson (MBW): It is a curiosity and it just attracted an oddball collection of customers, like me – I am one too.
VP: When we heard Pat and Eddie were selling, we were very worried we were going to lose it. We knew Pat and Eddie were keen to keep it as it was and we were very keen, so we couldn’t wait to be part of it.
Mark Powell (MP): When Pat and Eddie decided they were going to retire, they slipped a little personal letter to a good handful of people – only they will know quite how many – saying, ‘This is what we’re thinking of doing. Let us know if you’re interested.’ And so I then just started talking to some people who I had only nodded to in the pub for years. Eddie and Pat were kind enough to say, ‘Listen, this is our retirement package, so we’re not giving it away, but, if you can match the best offer on the table, you can have it,’ and we got it.
NP: Welcome to the Community Business Fix, the monthly podcast brought to you by Power to Change, the independent trust that supports community businesses in England. We will be bringing you stories from community activists transforming where they live by making local businesses their business. They will be sharing frank accounts of what it is really like to start and run a community business, and top tips to make that journey easier for others.
My name is Neil Roberts. I was a journalist and a teacher, but, when I saw the impact on my local community bakery, Love Bread, in Brighouse, was having on my town, I changed tack in life to work for, volunteer at and lend support to community businesses.
Over eight years of volunteering, I have come into contact with dozens of other community businesses involved in a broad spectrum of activities from recycling bicycles to pulling pints for thirsty locals.
It is a community pub that starts our series today. The Gardeners Rest is a very special pub in the heart of Sheffield. We arrived on Sunday night as the rain was clearing, a ukulele band was playing and the pub was about to fill up for the weekly quiz.
The Gardeners Rest Community Society was awarded a package of support from Power to Change in 2017, helping it to purchase their pub and preserve it as an activity centre, music venue and art exhibition space, as well as to continue to run it as a pub.
Mark Powell was one of Eddie and Pat’s regulars and is well known nationally as a veteran in social enterprise development with a string of enterprises to his name. He loved The Gardeners Rest so much that he became one of the instigators to save it.
MP: This is a traditional pub and, when we wondered about buying it, the interesting thing was that we didn’t really know who the catchment was, because this district called Neepsend, Kelham Island is a mile from the centre of town and nobody lives here. They used to in the days of steel and other industries, and an awful lot of people lived here. There were a lot of shops, there were schools, everything was around here. It was wonderful, on the edge of the River Don, marvellous area. But the industries changed and so on, and now there is hardly anybody who lives here except for the new flats that are being built. I think there will be 600 new flats within the next three months, for example. So that is the speed of development.
As you go in through the front here and we go into what I call the snug. I don’t know what other people call it. There is a fair amount of memorabilia from the old brewery across the road, around the walls here, some old maps, and, of course, we are standing in front of a bar billiards table; a traditional game…
NP: As Mark showed us round it was clear he had pride in the place. There is no question the pub has a strong feel about it and a history rooted in the industry of the area. Pubs tend to be called locals, but, for some of the regulars at The Gardeners Rest, that term meant something more.
MP: They felt that they wanted to buy a piece of their local. We then gave them an opportunity. We had a share prospectus and a business plan, and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ and we got 20 or 30 people, very typical of the way community ventures start: gradually you get a groundswell going, you then look to see how you can scale up. We learnt we could scale up through a crowdfunding operation. The surprise maybe to all of us was just how successful that operation was.
NP: Here is Mark Beckles Willson, chairman of the board of The Gardeners Rest Community Society.
MBW: People invested in the pub for all sorts of reasons, but some people valued the pub and said, ‘Well, we don’t want it to be turned into a Wetherspoons or whatever, or an All Bar One or some chain pub. It is special. It is a place we come to. I am always there on a Thursday night and I don’t want to lose that.’ So a lot of people invested on that basis. Some people, I guess like me, invested on a mixed basis. I want The Gardeners Rest to survive and not become part of a chain, but that sounds really interesting, the community engagement stuff.
MP: Over seven weeks I think we raised £236,000 or something. All the way along the line we would be having meetings with groups of people here, sometimes in very small groups, sometimes filling the conservatory so that you couldn’t get in. We would be saying, ‘We’re trying to do this. We’re trying to do that.’ Then we started communicating by email with those people who had signed up and so on. We have built, I think, a pretty good rapport with our membership, although we could do a lot better.
NP: The Gardeners Rest turned to the More Than a Pub programme for support and advice. Power to Change works in partnership with The Plunkett Foundation to deliver More Than a Pub, supporting groups to start and grow community businesses, to revive local assets, protect the services people rely on and address local needs. Jenny Sansom is More Than a Pub programme manager at Power to Change.
Jenny Sansom (JS): The More Than a Pub programme aims to respond to the fact that over the last 10 years we have lost about a fifth of our pubs due to a range of social and economic factors. But pubs are often important community meeting places, especially in rural areas, and sometimes the pub is even the last trading facility in that area. So, clearly, pubs closing has meant a big loss for many communities. However, it also brings with it an opportunity, and that is the opportunity for community groups to come forward and take ownership of the pub buildings themselves, running these pubs as community benefit societies and reinventing the role of the pub as a provider of a wide range of services to help local people.
NP: The programme offers much more than just funding.
JS: We offer action planning support. We send out advisors to help pub groups do action planning. We also offer study visits and conferences and training opportunities. We also run a Facebook group that people can join if they are interested in saving their local pub. We also offer bursary grants to groups so that they can cover feasibility costs; that means things like valuing their building and carrying out community consultation. And then we also offer large loans and grants, up to a total of £100,000. Alongside all that, there is also specialist advisor support, so people who can go out and advise on everything from how to run a community share offer all the way through to how to create your own business plan and advice on negotiating with sellers, etc.
MP: So, if I take you away from the snug now and into the main bar, which is a little busier, we have got some art on the walls. We are connected to the Kelham Island Arts Collective, where some meets with instant approval, some meets with rather less approval from the regulars, but they will have fun; even if it is abstract art and they don’t like it, they will certainly enjoy poking fun at it. So you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you do understand that different people have different tastes, and long may that continue.
NP: Mark Powell introduced us to the bar staff. Ellie Ormeno began working here on her 18th birthday and sketches at the regular art groups. Cain Wight is the bar manager.
Ellie Ormeno (EO): I think the fact that it is a community pub makes it more than a pub. It is not just somewhere where you go in and drink. You feel more a part of it.
Cain Wight (CW): We do a lot of events. We get bands. We have a poetry night. Community-wise, we have the art group on a Thursday, which is led by Juliet, one of our bar staff.
Juliet Portchmouth (JP): We do a variety of activities. There is painting and drawing, small craft work. Usually quite simple activities since we have people with different abilities.
NP: That is Juliet Porchmouth, who, as well as working in the bar, runs a weekly art group.
JP: I think it gives people something to do regularly, on a regular basis, I think because they enjoy the atmosphere at The Gardeners Rest because there are always a lot of people around in the morning and it is very social, and I think it is a big social event for them. I mean a pub is very much a place where people come to be sociable anyway, either to come to meet your friends or you come on your own because you don’t want to go home. So you have already got that kind of sociability that a pub offers anyway. Then I think what we offer is something a lot more because it is much more of a safer environment, I think, than a lot of other pubs can be.
NP: David Panther is working on an essential project at The Gardeners Rest. After reaching his 40s he was diagnosed with autism. He has plans to run an Autism Acceptance course at The Gardeners Rest aimed at people that design and create services.
David Panther (DP): A lot of opportunities are denied to autistic people, not intentionally but due to the way society is and the fact that autistic people are very much in the minority, very much misunderstood. Basically, an opportunity developed for me to put together this course. I have called it an Autism Acceptance course because, in my opinion, much of what is called Autism Awareness courses are really missing a lot of very important things about autism. I have been given this opportunity purely because of Gardeners Rest and Yes 2 Ventures.
Gary Chapola (GC): The house where I live is a supported living house, with roughly eight people who live there plus staff and the manager.
NP: Gary Chapola works at The Gardeners Rest as a cleaner.
GC: I work five mornings and I hoover, mop. Ladies’ and gents’ loos – I clean them, clean the mirrors, sinks. Dust. The pub garden.
MP: He is a working man. Three percent of people with learning disabilities in Sheffield are in paid employment. He is part of that three percent. I don’t expect he knows or cares about those statistics, but he will be aware that, in the house that he lives in, where there eight or 10 people with learning disabilities, if I think through them, I think he is probably the only one with paid employment.
GC: I first came here in 2001. I have been here roughly 17 years.
MP: He enjoys the fact that he is here and is one of the longest standing members of The Gardeners Rest. The fact it is new ownership, new management, yes, fine. He is an anchor man here, it has to be said.
CW: You don’t exclude anyone. So, if you are sat in the pub on your own with a pint, people will actually try and include you in conversations and what is going on. So it is a community in itself, really. I have just employed one chap who has got severe anxiety issues at times. He has been looking for bar work for a while. We have trained him up and he is now a paid member of our team.
NP: Supporting people’s mental health and wellbeing is an important part of the work being done at the pub but it does have its challenges which can cause conflict. Here is Mark Beccles-Wilson, chairman of the board of The Gardeners Rest Community Society.
MBW: In a sense, the running a business just as a business is familiar to me. Integrating with the, if you like, softer issues of it being a community pub, of us supporting all sorts of people to work here who are great but they need more support at the right time than other people we could employ. I don’t have a problem with that, but actually integrating that in is, I guess, the challenge.
NP: It is not the only challenge. There are inevitable tensions when a community-owned business goes from fundraising to launch. But then, when the dust settles, the business has to be sustainable.
EO: I had got a tiny bit of a share in it before I started working here, and, I don’t know, it did change after that; it made you feel more like you want it to do well and you want people to be enjoying it because you feel a part of it.
NP: Mark Beccles-Wilson again.
MBW: The pub was run by a steering group for the first year. After the first year, in the general meeting, they said, ‘We need to step down. We need a properly elected management board,’ and like a fool, of course, I put my hand up and said, ‘I’ll help with that.’ It seemed to me that a lot of things had been done very well, but perhaps the financial side was just floating a little bit.
It was a transition period from campaigning, start-up, excitement, and, after a year, ‘We’re still here. Phew! What do we do now?’ And we are still in that phase of a transition from campaigning to sustainability.
NP: Here is Jenny Sansom from Power to Change.
JS: A lot of pubs see a huge wave of support as they are launching their community share offers. Local people can actually buy a share and own a little piece of their local pub. They tend to get a lot of publicity around about that time. They tend to get a lot of volunteers around about that time and generally it is characterised by a big wave of support. As pubs go on, maintaining that level of interest is always going to be a challenge, but I think you are back to the core principles of just keeping in touch with what your customers want, providing them with that, providing them with good quality, a good atmosphere, a consistent service and the services that they want and need.
NP: So, whilst emphasis is put into delivering what the community needs, the business side needs equal attention. Mark Beckles Willson has his priorities.
MBW: Getting staffing right. There has been no grasp over stock. No one has quite known what is here, what we bought, what we sold. This sounds like the pub has been running competently. It has been run by a bunch of people who have done a fantastic job at setting it up and then have crisis managed it because, like everyone else, they are volunteers and they are not full time.
NP: But who decides who a community business should serve and what philosophy lies behind it? With 420 shareholders and nine board members that can be tricky.
MP: A lot of very nice people who are members and investors will say, if you ask them about whether they think the pub should be inclusive and should give opportunities to people, and if people with a variety of disabilities and issues should be welcomed in a pub, they will say, generally, ‘Yes, absolutely. Of course. That is absolutely a thing.’ You will then say, ‘So would you come and drink in a pub where this happened?’ and they would say, ‘Oh, no, no, no, we don’t go out for social work. We go out for a quiet drink, and we think that should happen in the pub next door.’ Well, there isn’t a pub next door. There is this pub.
JP: It is a really important part of what we are supposed to be, as More Than a Pub. I would certainly be liking to do a bit more of stuff as well. It is just sometimes the whole management thing and the nature of having a board of directors and everything has to be passed by different people, people have different opinions on what we should be doing and shouldn’t be doing, and it gets discussed at meetings, and then things don’t happen.
MP: You have to tread a tightrope, really, to deal with our social objectives without upsetting people who just want a quiet pint. It is a question of being big enough to actually accommodate what other people want and not push your own agenda too hard.
NP: Someone who has faced similar challenges to The Gardeners Rest team is Sally Soady. She is a member of the Bamford Community Society which runs The Anglers Rest community pub to the west of Sheffield, in the heart of the Peak District. In 2012 it was at risk of closure, so the community decided to try and save it. They ran a successful share offer which raised £263,000, saved the pub and now employ 25 people behind the bar and in the building’s post office and kitchen.
This is the Community Business Fix. On each show we will be asking people in community business ventures to offer advice. Here are Sally Soady’s tips.
Sally Soady (SS): When you are selling shares, it is great to have large shareholdings coming in. Three years down the road, when they want the money back, that is not quite so easy. So I would discourage people from having their shareholding too high. I would say up to £5,000. Most of our shareholders are £1,500 and less, and most of them have thought of it as they are investing in the community, it is a social investment, it is effectively a donation; they don’t expect to have it back.
Your publicity campaign is really important and using all sorts of different media. So there might be existing events in your locality. So I know pubs have used Christmas markets to go and have a stand or summer fetes or whatever. One of the things you have to be consistent with is your message across all channels and that message has to be consistent with what you said in the offer document. It is a financial product and you don’t want anybody coming back and saying, ‘I’ve been miss-sold,’ because somebody has got carried away with sales and said, ‘You can have free drinks for the first month,’ or anything like that.
To put together everything you need to do to buy a pub probably takes the same group of about nine to 12 people. So it feels like being on The Apprentice and it is, ‘This week we’ve got to launch a website. Next week we’ve got to write a share offer.’ So you will have people who have never done it before: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing but I’ll have a go at it.’ They are more important than people with strong professional skills. They are great as well, but it is that ‘can do’ attitude. People are connected with the community so, when you come to sell shares, if people recognise the people involved and go, ‘Oh, I know So-and-so. I’ll be happy to support it if they’re involved.’
NP: Thanks to Sally from The Anglers Rest for those tips. If you are ever in Bamford please pay them a visit.
Power to Change see partnerships with different organisations as an innovative way to do good work. Mark Powell’s social work charity, Yes 2 Ventures, was an integral part to The Gardeners Rest funding application and spearheaded the saving of the pub.
MBW: They have a seat on the board. They were an integral part of getting the pub going. It wouldn’t have happened without them. They are also partly, I suppose, largely responsible for working on some of the community engagement’s social inclusion work we do.
JS: When we saw the application coming from Gardeners Rest and we saw the fact that they are working in partnership with Yes to Ventures, I mean it is pretty unique actually in terms of the social impact or the services for local people the pub is providing. It is pretty unique. So we were really impressed and certainly something that we would really want to support and hold up as an example for other community pubs to follow. So, yes, certainly the fact that Gardeners Rest is working in partnership with an organisation that supports people with mental health and learning difficulties, that is tremendously in its favour from our point of view.
NP: Here is Mark Beckles Willson, chairman of the board of The Gardeners Rest Community Society.
MBW: It is not as simple as saying, ‘Well, they manage that for us,’ because it is not like that. The whole thing is much more complicated, the relationship. But they have access to a network which, as a pub, we wouldn’t have access to. Mark has an incredible knowledge of people who need support, ways we can support them and all sorts of things, which is vital for what we do, and that is very important to me.
NP: So what does the future hold for The Gardeners Rest? Mark Powell showed us upstairs to a room with a freshly decorated smell. As he explains, recent renovation work was carried out by regulars in the pub, another example of the importance of community goodwill.
MP: So I brought you upstairs to the one room that we have redecorated. So this had been a club room with various old societies using it years and years and years ago, when it was under different management. Now we have modernised it. Andy, one of our regulars, is a very practical man and he has done most of this. We also have an investor who is an electrician and he has put in all the sockets, because I think there was one old-style Bakelite socket in here before. So now we are ready to roll, and this can be another meeting space and so on.
I think there are about 420 plans. Everybody who invests here says, ‘I know what this would be used for.’ So there might be a little scrummage and a long queue, but we will probably find what it works best for. I guess meetings, possibly some acoustic music, maybe some play readings. Bits and pieces up here I am sure will happen very soon, and we will probably run things like training courses in here as well. I thought you should see this room because it is something for the future.
NP: Back downstairs the weekly Sunday night quiz was about to start.
VP: This is your five-minute warning for your quiz so, if you don’t already have a quiz sheet…
NP: It was a lively and well-attended event that has a different host every week.
VP: Question number 1…
NP: We watched teams listening to the questions followed by quizzical looks between members and then a scurrying of writing the answers on the sheets.
25 tough questions later sheets were passed to other teams for scoring, and a winning team was announced.
It is a mark of how popular this event is that even previous owners, Pat and Eddie, had travelled from their narrowboat and come along to create a team with other long standing regulars.
The Gardeners Rest still, in some ways, belongs to them, but equally will always belong to the community. They have made it their business to keep it going.
VP: Last order at the bar, ladies and gents.
NP: I hope you have enjoyed listening to the experiences of those running The Gardeners Rest. You can make a virtual visit there online at gardenersrest.com, but, to be honest, if you are in the area, it is worth dropping in for a pint.
This is the Community Business Fix news. If you are in the business of running a community pub and you want to share your experiences, The Plunkett Foundation is starting a face-to-face community pubs network. Get in touch with them on plunkett.co.uk. The community pub’s Facebook group is already up and running and full of practical advice. Search Cooperative Pubs Network on Facebook.
For community businesses looking for development funding, Power to Change will be reopening their community business fund in the autumn. You can apply for grants between £50,000 and £300,000. Sign up to the Power to Change newsletter at powertochange.org.uk, where you will find lots of other information.
If you are at an earlier stage of the journey and are looking for social investment, Good Finance Live will take place on Thursday, 27th September in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. You will be able to talk face-to-face with social investors, hear about their experiences and find out about the latest market developments.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the Community Business Fix in your favourite podcast app and give us a share, like and review. Once you are subscribed, it will mean you won’t miss our next episode where we will be travelling to Stretford in Greater Manchester to find out about how community shares work, why people buy them and how they helped the community to save Stretford Public Hall.
I am Neil Roberts and you have been listening to a www.wearefieldwork.com production commissioned by Power to Change, with research and production by Curtis James, sound design and music by Simon James, writing and executive production by Chris Paling. The show wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the people of The Gardeners Rest pub.