Co-operating for a Community Pub in South London

When a pub closes it can really rip out the heart of a neighbourhood. For many people in Walworth, South London, where I’m a councillor, the Beehive was the epitome of a community pub. Not just a place to grab a drink, but a place to meet neighbours, make new friends and hold landmark events from weddings to wakes.

When the owners put in a planning application for flats, the response was huge with over 200 objections in just a few weeks. Last week we heard the welcome news that the application had been refused. One of the reasons for refusal was the failure to justify the loss of the pub as an asset of community value. This went against the strong policies Southwark’s Labour-run council has put in place to protect pubs. This status is important and something the Co-op Party was campaigning for hard.

This is about much more than one planning application- it’s about the desire of a community to find a place that will work for them to deliver a true community pub. There are many examples of success, as this report from the Plunkett Foundation shows. That includes the Ivy House, just down the road in Nunhead, which was London’s first co-operatively run pub.

Of course, the money matters. Community pubs are usually supported by a share offer – with people buying shares from as little as £100. Every shareholder is an owner of the community business and has a say in how it is run. The aim is to raise enough funds for the community to buy a pub through a combination of shares, ethical loans, donations and grant funding.

So how do you get a community pub off the ground? Well the first step is to find out from local residents what they really want, then form a representative community group to steer the process, raise the money, find and buy a property and open the doors!  A lot of this is already underway in my ward, which is brilliant.  The Walworth Community Pub campaign is up and running with a survey out asking for residents’ views. For this kind of campaign to work, it needs many things and at the heart of this are co-operative principles. People coming together in a spirit of collaboration- working together to shape a vision, secure the resources needed and then ultimately deliver for the community. I know we can do it in Walworth, building on the amazing community spirit and energy we have here. As a local councillor and with my colleagues, we are committed to do all we can to back the campaign because we know a pub is so much more than a place to have a drink.