Don’t lose your local

by Steve Renshaw

In the current edition of our magazine, ImpAle, the chairman of the Louth CAMRA branch reports that the Heneage Arms – you’ll have seen the imposing building on the sharp double bend at Hainton, on the road between Wragby and Louth – has been saved from closure by the locals. The pub currently opens on Friday and Saturday evenings, and is run entirely by volunteers from the Heanage Arms Community Group.

With the pub trade under greater pressure than ever before, more and more communities are realising how important their local is to village life, and are taking action to keep it open. This reminded me that we have a pub in our area that has been taken over by the local community.

The Cherry Tree, in the village of Cherry Willingham, is owned by Punch Taverns. In common with many pubs, it went through a period where different landlords failed to make a go of the business. Locals became frustrated by the lack of consistency so decided to do something about it.

In 2010, the community were given an opportunity to take over the running of The Tree as a village concern. There were two conditions that needed to be met: someone was needed to run the pub, and funds were required in order to take over the lease.

The community had to raise approximately £15,000 for the initial set up. A total of 43 people put their hands in their pockets to become “shareholders” in The Tree.

Two years on and I decided it was time to pay the pub another visit to see how the venture was progressing. The Tree is an archetypal 1960s estate pub which backs on to the village sports ground. There are two large rooms, one the main bar and the other a dining and function room.

Landlady, Barbara Mawer, worked behind the bar for over twenty years before agreeing to take on the role of licensee. She was keen to show me round the pub and it soon became clear that the shareholders had played a masterstroke when they asked her to take charge. She knows her customers and what they want – and she works hard to provide it.

The Tree has everything you’d expect from a community local. There are dominoes, darts and pools teams, support for sports clubs, meetings of various local groups, bingo nights, functions and private parties. Fund-raising events provide support for the local school and sports teams.

And it’s clear from the enthusiasm of Barbara and the locals I met that the pub is doing well. Profits are being ploughed back into the business, with new furniture and decoration. An indicator of the success is the Sunday carvery. When the cooperative took over, they had twenty to thirty customers but now they regularly cater for over fifty, and have had as many as ninety.

The Cherry Tree is a good example of how a standard pub leasing arrangement can provide a flexible and affordable solution for a community group to run a successful pub business. But the two factors that make it work are the locals who support the pub and a great landlady who is passionate about serving the community.

And what about the beer? Charles Wells Bombardier, a top-ten national cask ale brand, is the regular at The Tree. Last year, the ABV was reduced from 4.3% to 4.1%, making it a better prospect for a lunchtime. It’s burnished copper colour and has sultana fruit character with a gentle hop bitterness. Barbara clearly knows how to look after her beer as well as her customers.

Case studies of community-operated pubs can be found on the Pub is the Hub website.