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Learning about Community Pubs with Plunkett

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

On the 11th November 4 of us made the trip across the Pennines to the Green Dragon at Exelby to attend a Plunkett Foundation event. The event was designed to share the learnings from the many brave communities who have taken the plunge to buy their community pubs.

There was a sense of excitement for those gathered in the lovingly refurbished pub since it was the first in person event Plunkett have run since Covid struck. In the event there were 15 of us in the room and 40 on line to hear from the number of expert speakers and management teams from all across the country on the lessons which had served them well and the things they wish they had done differently.

Plunketts Facts and Figures

Over the last five years Plunkett have worked with a number of programs including Power to Change, More Than a Pub to help community groups access funding to put their community pub and other rural businesses back on their feet for the benefit of their communities. Through the program over 22,000 people invested over £24m in their community enterprises with a return of 2-3% to investors. Whilst only 1 in 9 of the pubs who originally approached Plunkett for help went on to open for trading, of those that did 99% were still open 5 years later.

In terms of running the pub over 60% were managed by the community with 35% adopting the tenant model. 66% of the pubs had weekly volunteers helping.

Overall the More than a Pub program has been a huge success.

Lessons Learned

Throughout the day we heard of the sometimes painful experiences from other CBS groups. They shared the things they wish they had known ahead of time.

  • Never underestimate the hours of work it will take to get the pub up and running.

  • Anticipate volunteer fatigue and plan sharing the load

  • Understand why a location failed in the first place and plan how you will build a sustainable business going forward - avoid the mistakes of the past.

  • The community alone cannot sustain your average country pub - you need to be attractive to visitors - they are key to keeping your pub open.

  • A willing seller is invaluable.

  • The pub has to operate as a business to be sustainable - it needs to make money,

  • Dont assume that anything will work (kitchen appliances, heating etc). People shared experiences of having to invest in unexpected repairs to be able to open.

  • Work together with the other groups in your community to avoid stepping on toes and damaging what is already working well.

All groups face challenges. The successful ones are just able to overcome them.

An Inspiration

Three great case studies were shared with us during the day. The management team from the Green Dragon shared pictures of their amazing journey turning a very dilapidated and unloved pub run by Enterprise Inns into a beautifully refurbished pub with great indoor and outdoor eating spaces, letting rooms and cosy snugs.

Sally from the Anglers Rest in Bamford shared how they had developed their pub into a pub, shop, cafe and post office. They learnt to innovate through trying out ideas in small scale and seeing what worked. Sally calculated that from her costs - and excluding payments to HMRC and the utility companies, 75% of all her spending went back into the local community - a sum of £300k per year - a real boost to the local economy.

Finally we heard from Martin Booth from the George and Dragon in Hudswell. They started their journey 12 years ago. Their pub has a fair bit of land and over the years they have added an Orchard and bee hives with produce making its way into the pub to sell.

Whilst we are at the start of our journey, the visit to Exelby really underlined the fact that each of these pubs made it because it was a village enterprise and everybody in the area supported the initiative in some way.


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