9th November 2021
Community group wins £250,000 in bid to save historic Kent pub
A village community group formed to save a historic Kent pub has won a significant funding pledge from the Government’s new Community Ownership Fund.
The George Community has been awarded £250,000 in matched funding to help them purchase, refurbish and reopen The George, located at the heart of the village of Bethersden, near Tenterden.
Bethersden was recently named as the best village in the South East by the Times newspaper but its 17th century free house recently closed after the long-standing tenant gave up the lease at the end of 2020 – the first time in its history that the pub has closed for any length of time.
When residents and loyal customers realised that it would not reopen and had been put up for sale, they formed an action group to save the popular local as a vital village asset, with the aim of running it as a community pub. This formula has proved very successful for other at-risk UK pubs. Although still a relatively new concept, according to CAMRA there are approximately 150 community-owned pubs in the UK; so far these pubs have one of the best business survival rates anywhere in the world with only one UK closure recorded.
With the Government’s pledge, the group is now on a mission to raise at least an equivalent sum in order to purchase and reopen the pub. A community share offer is due to be launched in just a few weeks’ time, and the results of further grant applications are also awaited.
“The timing of this win couldn’t be better,” said the George Community’s campaign secretary, Alex Withington. “Of course, we need to raise at least the same amount ourselves to receive the full pledge, and realistically we need more than that as the pub needs significant refurbishment, but it’s a big boost.”
The group’s steering committee of four local residents and business people is in regular contact with the pub’s current owner who is supportive of the plan, allowing them to hold a number of pop-up events in the pub’s beer garden over the Summer to generate support and raise some initial seed funding. Village residents and supporters are being kept informed of campaign progress through the group’s website www.georgecommunity.com, social media and regular e-newsletters.
The project has the support of the Plunket Foundation, Ashford Borough Council, Bethersden parish council and Ashford MP Damian Green.
“The George has been at the centre of our community for hundreds of years – a welcoming place for residents to meet, connect and celebrate in equal measure,” said George Community Chair Robin Draper, who has lived in Bethersden for the last 35 years.
“Our vision for reopening as a community pub will not only ensure that this role and atmosphere is restored but is also strengthened to provide expanded services for the village and future profits being redirected back into our community over the long term”.
In advance of the share offer launch, the Group has set up a crowdfunding page to raise funds to help cover costs associated with the pub purchase: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-george-community---startup-fund
A fundraising family-friendly Christmas event is also being planned for 17 December at Bethersden’s village hall with carols, entertainment, mulled wine and local beers. For more information please see future posts on the website www.georgecommunity.com or follow The George on Facebook.
Photo: Members of the steering committee of The George Community outside the historic 17th century free house (left to right) - Robin Draper (Chair), Joanne Brannan (Marketing Co-ordinator), Alex Withington (Secretary), Roger Kelly (Treasurer)