A community pub in the heart of Inspector Morse country

With help from the More than a Pub Programme worth £3.6m, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and Power to Change, a much-loved pub in the heart of an Oxfordshire village is now under community ownership following a 6-month long campaign by locals to save it.

The Abingdon Arms in Beckley was put up for sale in May 2016 by Brakspear. After word spread about the prospect of losing the historic village pub, a working committee was formed in a bid to save it. The committee quickly set about listing The Abingdon Arms as an ‘Asset of Community Value’, giving them a 6-month period to prepare a bid to buy the pub for the village.

Since then, a determined group of locals set up a Community Benefit Society, the Beckley & Area Community Benefit Society, and raised over £475,000 in the first month of their community share offer. Shareholders were invited to invest between £250 and £100,000 to become members – and democratic owners – of the pub.

The group has been receiving business advice and specialist support, including a £2,500 bursary from the More Than A Pub: The Community Pub Business Support programme, a two-year project delivered by Plunkett Foundation and established to help support community ownership of pubs in England. The Abingdon Arms will become the fifth pub to open after receiving this support, which is funded by The Department for Communities and Local Government and Power to Change.

Investors have come from all over the UK, but the large majority are from local villages including Beckley, Horton-cum-Studley and Stanton St John. The amount raised shows that locals felt strongly about saving the 17th-century pub for the community and maintaining a vital social hub. With the finance raised, an offer was made to Brakspear to buy the pub. The offer was accepted in November and contracts were exchanged before Christmas.

Mike Hobbs, Chair of the Beckley & Area Community Benefit Society, says:

We have had a fantastic response to our campaign to save The Abingdon Arms in Beckley and are now the proud owners of a community pub! It has been heart-warming to see so many people supporting the project and has created a real sense of community cohesion.’

The group are now busy organising an army of volunteers to come in over the next few weeks and get the pub ready for business with locals on hand to clean, clear the garden, and do basic DIY and decorating.

James Alcock, Head of Frontline for Plunkett Foundation, said:

Pubs like The Abingdon Arms saved by their community are governed democratically on the basis that each member gets one vote, regardless of how much money they invested. In our view this is important, because we know that rural communities are made up of people with mixed incomes and backgrounds, and this means that everybody has the opportunity to have a say about what’s important to them. We’re absolutely delighted that The Abingdon Arms will be opening its doors to the community and wish them every success for the future’

David Chater, Head of Funds at Power To Change, said:

The Abingdon Arms is a great example of a community coming together to keep a much-loved pub open for locals.

People won’t just be able to enjoy a pint again, but will have somewhere they can access essential services, buy everyday goods, and – especially for people in danger of being isolated – have somewhere they can meet their neighbours’.

Community Pubs Minister Andrew Percy said:

From historical inns to village locals, our pubs are a great British institution and in rural areas they can also provide valuable services for local people. Thanks to the More Than a Pub programme and local campaigners, the Abingdon Arms will now stay at the heart of the community. This is a great reason to celebrate with a pint, and I hope the other new owners benefitting from the programme will raise a glass or two to the success of their businesses too‘.

The management committee has launched an advertising campaign in the search of a permanent tenant for The Abingdon Arms. The committee is interested in hearing from any publicans who would be thrilled to work with a community-owned pub with ambitious plans for the future. For tenant application details, visit http://www.savetheabingdonarms.org/.

The group has ambitious plans to develop The Abingdon Arms into a community hub with services and facilities beyond the traditional role of a local pub, and have been offered a grant to do so. Proposals include a local shop, a café, a bike repair service, a parcel collection service and a venue for music evenings.