How many pub owners does it take to change a village?

Peter Maher is one of 182 pub owners in Ennerdale, in the Lake District. You might for a moment think that is a tad excessive, but none of the owners has it as their job and there is only one pub in the village… which, of course, they all own.

Peter is a natural story teller and I heard his inspired tale recently, as he showed me how the village had come together. The local tradition, he explained, is for people to meet in a village ‘gather’ to discuss what was needed locally. But, depressingly, when they met this time last year, their concerns were identical to the year before. Not a single thing had happened.

The village was asleep, but woken up with alacrity only a few days later, when the Fox and Hounds suddenly closed down.

The pub had gone through different hands over the years, never with any great success, but the villagers feared that it’s closure would spell the end of any practical community for the area. Their post office, shop and bus service had all already been axed.

They needed £83,000 within only ten days to buy the pub and, using the flexible legal model of the co-operative society that enables people to come together in this way, they raised it. On the morning of Day One, they were at £2,500 and with every commitment, the news spread and the tally rose. They raised all the finance within eight days.

110 of the owners and their children and dogs then turned to the practical renovation in double time in their spare time. The charm, the peer encouragement and Peter’s organisational skills all helped to get it trading again fast – ‘do I have to work in the toilets again? Oh all right.’ It is true that some people couldn’t do what, in a heroic spirit, they said they could and the numbers dropped off – though not the toilet renovation crew – but they knew that everyone would be there if there was a crunch point.

The pub is designed now as a traditional village pub, but they have made sure that there are signs and a warm communal welcome for walkers that descend into the village at the end of the first day of the coast to coast walk. They will, you feel, make a success of it, because they are proud of what they have done and what they own. Talk is good but action makes communities.

The “support of the wider co-operative sector”, Peter says, “was invaluable.” (take a bow, Dave Hollins and the Co-operative Enterprise Hub)

When he finishes his tale, the first question is predictably “what is the price of a pint of beer?” My wife argues that this is the single most common item of discussion among men (well, it is a big issue. If climate change hit the price of beer, you’d really get us talking).

The answer is you should come and find out, if you are ever up in the wilded dale of the village. But you will find change from a tenner for a lunch and a pint.

And next? They want to reopen the library and convert a barn into a village shop. Spring 2012 is the target date.

When the times get tough, the tough get co-operative.

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