Invaluable networking events for rural community-owned pubs in Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire will continue to take place, thanks to a grant of £3,900 by the East of England Co-op’s Community Cares Fund.

Plunkett UK’s East of England Community Pubs Network supports the region’s community-owned pubs to better understand how they can:

  • improve access to social activities for local people
  • reduce isolation and loneliness in their rural communities
  • promote inclusive employment opportunities.

Three in-person network events in 2023 drew 55 registrations. This grant from East of England Co-op will enable Plunkett to facilitate quarterly, face-to-face meetings in 2024, including the provision of a specialist adviser to present on a topic chosen by the network members at each meeting.

An East of England Community Pub Network meeting at The White Swan, Gressenhall in 2023

There are currently 31 trading community pubs in the network – nine in Suffolk, seven in Norfolk, four in Cambridgeshire and 11 in Essex – with a further 48 early-stage groups looking to establish a community-owned pub. Based on its research, ‘Community Ownership: A Better Form of Business’, Plunkett estimates there are 220 employees and 460 volunteers in the region’s community-owned pubs.

Plunkett has a strong track record of working collaboratively to deliver the best results for communities. Funding from the East of England Co-op will enable the charity to develop and maintain partnerships with several organisations in 2024 that can help network members to include a broader range of people, such as young people, people with disabilities, and ethnic and racial minorities.

The Locks Inn in Geldeston, Norfolk

The White Swan, Gressenhall’s coffee hub

The Railway Inn in Saffron Waldron

Sarah Benn, Plunkett UK’s Membership and Training Manager, says, “We are grateful for the generous support of East of England Co-op, which will enable us to continue our Community Pubs Network meetings in the region.

“We hope the opportunity for further collaboration will result in community-owned pubs that are increasingly resilient, thriving and inclusive. Such assets that are owned by communities often offer ‘more than a’ core service, meaning these become multi-service hubs providing multiple benefits to residents.”

In our largely rural region, the pub is a vital part of addressing the twin problems of rural isolation and community cohesion. Running a pub can be challenging and the opportunity to meet with other community groups and to discuss issues that impact on us all is invaluable.”

Alan Collard, a Plunkett specialist adviser and Chair of Pumphouse Community Brewery, Essex

“Despite being involved for over ten years, I always pick up one or two nuggets at every meeting to take back to base. The network would soon falter without Plunkett’s support.

John McGourty at The King’s Arms, Shouldham, Norfolk

“At network meetings, I get to hear how others are coming up with new ideas and initiatives. Each story is different but can offer a new perspective into what your team had thought to be an impossible situation.”

Kate Spicer at The Case is Altered, Bentley, Suffolk

Joe is a young person employed by The Locks Inn, a community-owned pub in Geldeston, Norfolk. He has Fragile X syndrome, which impacts his capacity to communicate and manage social situations. As a selective mute, Joe had never spoken in public; only within the safe environment of home. He started as a pot washer at the pub, and as his confidence increased gradually took on more responsibilities, including helping to clear tables and delivering food to customers.

The transformation in Joe has been incredible – he now interacts with customers and speaks to those close to him in public. Joe attends a new college where he works in their bistro as part of his course, something that seemed quite impossible a short while ago.

Such stories act as a catalyst for the East of England Community Pubs Network, allowing other community-owned pubs to consider how they can make a difference by providing opportunities that meet the needs of local people.

More about our grant funders

The East of England Co-op is an independent retailer in East Anglia, with over 200 stores and branches across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. The East of England Co-op’s Community Cares Fund, set up in April 2020, supports a diverse range of local groups and services and has supported more than 95,000 people.

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