A pub run by volunteers is nominated for a ‘rural oscar’

After a long battle to save their village pub, the residents of Great Bromley and Ardleigh relaunche

After a long battle to save their village pub, the residents of Great Bromley and Ardleigh relaunched a scheme to sell shares so they could re-open The Cross Inn in Great Bromley as a community pub. (pic from 2016) - Credit: Gregg Brown

A ‘community pub’ that hosts a library, post office, coffee shop, take away nights and even yoga sessions is getting recognised for its role in uniting a village community

The Cross Inn in Great Bentley. Picture: Sheena Mcneill

The Cross Inn in Great Bentley. Picture: Sheena Mcneill - Credit: Archant

A pub that also offers yoga, a library, a post office, a coffee shop, business seminars and take away nights, is in line for an award for its role as a community lifeline.

Two years ago, the Great Bromley Cross Community Pub was bought by 170 shareholders, who were mainly residents of the Essex village of Great Bromley, after a long-term battle to save it from being converted into housing.

Groups of volunteers helped to refurbish the pub and now entirely run it, including its post office, coffee shop and library service which opens every Wednesday between 10am and 12pm.

While Great Bromley is not short of pubs - the Courthouse and the White Rose serve the other end of the village - but Owen Blowers, the chairman of the pub community benefit society that runs the pub, explains that these other offerings are somewhat different. “The Courthouse has accommodation and a restaurant, and we can’t compete with that,” he says. “We couldn’t break even if we were a gastro pub.

Owen Blowers, of the Great Bromley Cross Inn

Owen Blowers, of the Great Bromley Cross Inn - Credit: Archant

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“What we were lacking in Great Bromley was facilities, and we wanted to be able to offer as many services as we can.

“Our pub is a lifeline for residents. Like a lot of rural villages, the population is increasingly elderly, as young people move out to the cities to work. We have one room which is a community room. We are getting someone in to do yoga there, and a local business has been using that room for seminars.”

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Other upcoming events at the pub on Ardleigh Road include a crafts fair, a fashion event and a beetle drive game.

Mr Blowers believes their community model represents the future for British rural pubs. “To survive, pubs need to be more than just a place to go for a drink,” he says. “For us, the wet side of the business is almost incidental.

Amanda Lucas, pub manager at the Great Bromley Cross Inn community pub

Amanda Lucas, pub manager at the Great Bromley Cross Inn community pub - Credit: Archant

“Pubs are too often seen as more valuable assets if they can be bulldozed to build homes. We are giving them a chance to be more than just a drinking spot but a community service.”

The pub’s efforts have just been recognised by the Countryside Alliance, as it has just been nominated for a Rural Oscar in the Pub category of their awards.

The awards, which are a celebration of British food, farming, enterprise and heritage through small hard-working businesses, are driven by public nomination, and judges are particularly interested in how businesses serve their communities.

Mr Blowers explained that being a community pub has given the village a “real buzz.”

“I’ve been here for ten years, and thanks to the pub, I meet people in the village who I would never otherwise have known, or just known their faces from seeing them out walking the dog. Now, we can stop and have a chat.”

The Cross also runs more traditional pub events such as quiz nights, music nights - “not with professional musicians necessarily but a guy and his guitar” - and take away nights, in which an array of take away menus are offered out and the washing up afterwards is done by whoever is on duty.

Countryside Alliance Awards Director Sarah Lee said that the awards provide a cause for celebration, “in a time of great uncertainty in the countryside”. “They were set up to provide a voice and a platform for the rural businesses that form the hearts of their communities,” she added.

Other pubs owned and run by volunteers in their communities

The Case is Altered in Bentley was bought in 2014 from Punch Taverns by a community group of about 170 people.

The Maybush in Great Oakley was saved and reopened as a co-operative pub by the local community in 2016.

The Black Buoy in Wivenhoe is a 300-year-old inn located close to the River Colne which was saved from closure by the local community in 2013, completely restored and re-opened as a free house.

Lamarsh Lion in Lamarsh in Essex was built in the 14th Century, and is now owned by the local community. It is famous for its connections with two iconic painters John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough, giving it the nickname ‘The Painters’ Pub.’

The Cross Keys pub in Redgrave, Diss, was reopened by the Redgrave Community Society Limited, which was formed to buy the grade II listed pub as a community asset.

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