Villagers buy fire-damaged pub with plans to start restoration within weeks

Firefighter at The George Pub in Wickham Market Picture: SU ANDERSON

Firefighter at The George Pub in Wickham Market Picture: SU ANDERSON - Credit: Archant

Suffolk villagers have taken ownership of their last remaining pub – more than five years after a major fire devastated the historic inn.

The pub was badly damaged in the fire Picture: SU ANDERSON

The pub was badly damaged in the fire Picture: SU ANDERSON - Credit: Archant

The George Community Pub (Wickham Market) Ltd and its 321 shareholders have been confirmed as the official owners of the Grade II listed building – and will now start work to bring it back into use.

The George was devastated by a serious fire in April 2013 and has remained closed ever since – amid growing community unrest.

New owners bought the George from Punch Taverns but their plans to demolish and rebuild part of the building were knocked back after heritage experts unearthed evidence the pub dated back to the medieval period.

Since then, the Wickham Market community has taken matters into its own hands, first setting up a company to run the pub and a plan to save it and then raising £100,000 through a community shareholder scheme to buy the building.

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After achieving the fundraising target in 10 weeks this summer, the project leaders have successfully completed the purchase by exercising its “option to buy” rights.

“All being well, the start of the development will be November 2018,” said a project spokesman.

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“The site has been a blot on the Wickham Market landscape for over five years and the group’s aim is to return this important back to its former use as a pub whilst saving an important community and heritage asset for the benefit of the village.”

To group has met with groups such as the Plunkett Foundation to receive advice on how to make the project a success, as well as the teams behind Suffolk pubs including The Sorrel Horse in Shottisham, the Case is Altered in Bentley and the Duke of Marlborough in Somersham.

The overall project is estimated to cost around £1.6m, of which £1m is hoped to come from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the remainder from a mixture of grants and shares.

The committee has submitted its Lottery application and expects the results to be announced sometime in October.

If successful in their application, the pub’s design will be based on the results of a household survey, which conservation architects NJA has used to produce a conceptual layout. It is hoped the New George could open its doors in 2021.

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