Volunteers are responsible for every aspect of life at the community-owned Fox Inn in Garboldisham, Norfolk. Iain Entwistle shares their story so far, the benefits and challenges of being entirely volunteer-run and their exciting plans for what’s next.

The Fox Inn is a Grade II listed pub dating back to 17th Century. We are located in the small village of Garboldisham, halfway between the towns of Thetford and Diss in the Breckland District of South Norfolk.

The pub closed in February 2007. In 2010, plans were submitted to convert the pub into five separate dwellings. The application was turned down and in 2014 the building became an Asset of Community Value.

In April 2016, the Garboldisham Fox CIC was founded and given six months to submit a bid to buy the pub. After some intensive fundraising, including a significant contribution from local residents, an offer was made and accepted.

“I volunteer as I enjoy the atmosphere and want to ensure the pub stays open to provide a place where people can meet and socialise to prevent loneliness.”


“I grew up in the village and have so many good memories of drinking in the Fox before it closed. Having seen the lights turn on again, I want to do whatever I can to make sure the lights stay on it doesn’t sit empty again.”

In October 2016 the keys were handed over! We took on a building in a poor state of repair. However, within just two months, a team of volunteers had restored one end of the bar and the toilets to enable the pub to re-open. The main part of the bar was reopened a year later and the remainder of the downstairs area was completed in late 2018.

The Fox has come a long way in a relatively short period of time and is now a well-established social hub for the village. It is the base for several other groups in the community.

The prime benefit of the volunteer-run approach is the sense of togetherness it creates. Customers often say to us that the pub has a welcoming, friendly atmosphere and we firmly believe that this is largely down to the fact that our volunteers are happy to give up their spare time to be there. Of course, the added benefit is that we don’t have to pay wages which means a larger proportion of our revenue goes towards our building fund.

On the flipside, we face the constant challenge of filling the shift rota and the burden often falls on the same few individuals which can take its toll. Decisions tend to take longer than expected since we all have lives, interests and occupations outside of the pub which compete for our time.

We could decide to remain as we are, but the widely held view is that volunteer fatigue will eventually get the better of us resulting in reduced opening hours or worse still temporary or permanent closure.

Our long-term goal is to appoint a manager to run the pub in accordance with our vision and community values. They will be paid a salary, but will get regular support from volunteers so we can offer the range of activities and events we know our customers enjoy.

The day-to-day maintenance of the building and grounds is organised and carried out by our Premises Committee. The team report for duty every week and are happy to tackle most things, including the internal refurbishment and decoration.

A volunteer team cleans the pub every Thursday, the Events Committee plan, coordinate and publicise all our social events ranging from the monthly quiz to the Summer Beer Festival, which is our main fundraiser of the year. Committees are given a certain level of autonomy, although each has a Director assigned to them who is responsible for escalating any issues to the Board for approval.

We are grateful for Plunkett UK’s support. Our business plan is based on Plunkett’s template, as are our Articles of Association.

Our vision is for The Fox to become a fully-restored and well-used pub which is accessible for the whole community. Above all, we want The Fox to be financially secure so that everyone can continue to enjoy it and feel part of it for years to come.

From a social value point of view, we want to help reduce rural isolation and improve general wellbeing in the village by strengthening and extending social networks, hosting local events, enhancing the heritage and cultural identity of the local area whilst at the same time providing employment opportunities for local businesses.

We plan to achieve this by:

  • Providing a pub which is open 5 days a week from 10am to 10pm

  • Offering a selection of local beers and ciders at affordable prices

  • Providing different food vans each weekend

  • Introducing a small bar food menu on days when food vans or Sunday Lunch aren’t being provided

  • Introducing a weekday coffee and cake service in coordination with existing offerings available in the village

  • Giving friendly, personal service to customers to make them feel connected with the pub and local community

  • Building new toilet facilities including access for disabled customers

  • Carrying out building renovations including wall repairs, rewiring, updating the plumbing and adding central heating

  • Relocating the kitchen and equipping it to the standard required for regular weekday bar food service

  • Refurbishing the living accommodation for a future manager

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