New research, undertaken by the Plunkett Foundation, reveals that improved community rights legislation, flexible funding and support would boost the number of urban community-owned pubs, breathe new life into neglected buildings and transform their neighbourhoods.

The number of community-owned pubs has grown rapidly in the last 20 years, from 4 in 2002 to 147 now trading across the UK. However, only 22 (15%) of these are based in urban areas.

Plunkett Foundation, a charity dedicated to supporting communities safeguard well-loved community pubs, shops and many other assets across the UK, has carried out new research, funded by Power To Change, into why so few community-owned pubs are established in urban areas.

The research revealed that the most common reason for an urban community pub failing to reach trading status was private competition for the purchase of the pub building. Over half (52%) of 200 community pub projects, in urban areas that had contacted Plunkett Foundation for free support and advice were outbid, when trying to buy their pub through competitive process. Groups also cited the challenge of raising enough money to meet the escalating purchase price of urban pubs, with some pub buildings costing up to £950,000 on the open market as a barrier to progress.

All community-ownership projects rely on a core of dedicated volunteers to drive forward their ambitions. However, community pub projects are often complex and time consuming. The research identified that where groups have struggled to recruit enough volunteers, accessing revenue funding to “buy in” additional capacity, alongside any other programme of advice and support could be transformational for urban community pub projects.

The research recommends:

  • Introduce a Community Right to Buy, as already exists in Scotland, to allow communities first refusal on registered pub buildings when they come up for sale
  • Provide dedicated advisory and capacity building support, to nurture the development of community-owned pub projects in urban areas
  • Offer more varied and flexible funding programmes, which include the provision of revenue and capital funding to support community-owned pub projects

Many urban community pubs and developing projects highlighted the value of business advice, peer learning and mentoring, without which their projects might not have succeeded or progressed. This view was supported when reviewing Plunkett’s ‘More than a Pub’ programme where the chances of success for community pub projects increased from 1 project in 10, to 1 project in 3 where bursary funding and advisor support were provided. This success rate rose to 100% where a loan and grant package was provided.

Claire Spendley, Head of Community Business at the Plunkett Foundation, said: “Despite the challenges involved, urban community pubs can bring huge benefits to local people. They can rebuild the social fabric of an urban area by offering a place to meet, hosting vital services and providing many social benefits, such as affordable meals, children’s activities, club meeting spaces, community gardens, dementia cafes, and pop-up health surgeries. Community ownership of a pub can restore a feeling of pride in place, and allow people to transform a closed business into a thriving community hub.

This research shows that the interest (in community-ownership of pubs in urban areas) is there. Plunkett Foundation is committed to growing the community-owned pub sector and we look forward to working with partners to achieve this, implementing the recommendations proposed.”

Nick Plumb, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Power to Change, said: “With vacancy rates at an all time high, urban community pubs have an important role to play in securing the future of our high streets. They are a clear example of local people reclaiming important social spaces and as big retail moves out community pubs will provide the destination spaces needed to draw people in. It is therefore vital that communities have the power, tools and funding needed to secure these spaces and ensure our towns remain vibrant.”

Communities wishing to safeguard their local pub through community ownership should contact the Plunkett Foundation for free advice and training 01993 630022 or www.plunkett.co.uk.

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The full report is available here. This research is a direct response to the findings of the 2021 More Than A Pub (MTAP) programme, a scheme for communities in England, run by the Plunkett Foundation with funding from Power to Change and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (now Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities). If you have any questions about this research, please contact Georgina Edwards, Policy and Research Manager (georgina.edwards@plunkett.co.uk).

Community businesses

Community businesses supported by the Plunkett Foundation are defined as a type of business that trades products and services for community benefit, and which is democratically owned and controlled by the local community. 

The Plunkett Foundation

www.plunkett.co.uk

Plunkett Foundation is a national charity with a vision for resilient, thriving and inclusive rural communities. To achieve this, we support people in rural areas to set up and run a wide range of businesses which are genuinely owned by local communities, whereby members have equal and democratic control. Today, we represent over 800 ‘community businesses’ throughout the UK, from shops and pubs through to woodlands, farms and fisheries.

Power to Change

www.powertochange.org.uk

Power to Change is the independent trust that supports community businesses in England.

Community businesses are locally rooted, community-led, trading for community benefit and making life better for local people. There are nearly 7,000 community businesses across England employing 35,500 people, with a combined income of £1.2bn.