The Harrow is a small traditional pub in the village of Stockbury, a parish of about 700
people located on the rural North Downs in Kent. The nearest town is Sittingbourne,
approximately four miles to the north east of the village.

About The Harrow

The pub first opened its doors around 200 years ago, but sadly in recent years it has had several different owners, the last of which was Shepherd Neame, the country’s oldest brewer. Until a few years ago, The Harrow was an excellent place for locals to meet and socialise, and it served a good range of drinks and excellent food. However, after a succession of short term tenancies and a lack of investment, there was a decline in its use.

Journey

The Harrow was listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) and in September 2016 the Parish Council was informed that the pub was to be put on the market for £310,000. There was a strong desire in the village to keep the pub open, and a campaign group was quickly established. The local community was galvanised into action, and within a short period of time, local people pledged just over £187,000 to buy community shares in the business. The group commissioned a survey to establish what villagers might want and need from the pub; they asked residents how they might use the pub and what they would like it to provide. The results indicated a desire for good local food, reasonable prices, a social atmosphere, a café during the day, the provision of midweek lunches and a family room. Over half of the responses were from people aged 56 years old and over, with 20% over the age of 70.

The results of the survey helped the campaign group to formulate their business plan. It also helped them to identify sources of funding to assist with the purchase of the premises and carry out any necessary refurbishments. Having established that the community had the appetite to acquire the pub, a public meeting was held in the village hall.

Fundraising

Working closely with the Plunkett Foundation, the group secured an initial bursary of £2,500, and put together a successful application to the More Than A Pub programme for a grant of £40,000. The grant was also linked to a loan of £40,000 from Co-operative & Community Finance. Initial acquisition and start-up costs were estimated to be in the region of £380,000. The remaining finance was secured from shareholders who, in addition to the purchasing shares to the tune of £187,000, were asked to loan at least £10,000 over three years for a return of 4% per annum to be payable at the end of the term along with the capital. This was considered to be a lower cost option compared to a commercial loan.

At the end of the period, the Society intends to replace the shareholder loans of £120,000 with a mortgage, which they envisage might be easier to arrange once three years’ of trading figures are available. Most of the refurbishment work was carried out by volunteers and the transformation, both to the pub and the upstairs accommodation, was remarkable and helped to reduce costs.

Social impact

Local people benefit from a having access to a local social hub in their pub. Additionally people from outside the parish, who use the village hall for meetings, who visit the farm shop or post office and other local businesses now have somewhere to call in for refreshments afterwards. At present, there are no facilities at the church for the ‘open’ family history visits that take place, which are hosted by volunteers. A visit to a 200 year old pub is a fitting place where people can take refreshments and complete their visit without having to travel further afield to find amenities.

The elderly or infirm, especially those in outlying parts of the village, benefit both socially and nutritionally from the lunch club, particularly when combined with the use of the village minibus. Residents are collected and returned home afterwards thus reducing their social isolation, and keeping them in touch with what is happening in the village and the wider world. This pub is making a big impact and it offers a friendly drop-in centre for anyone who feels lonely or isolated, or just needs to get out for a chat and see a friendly face.

Hear from the group

Chris Porter, Chair of the Harrow Community Benefit Society Group, said: “It was a fantastic achievement to save this pub from closure, thanks to the help of hundreds of people – stakeholders, villagers, councillors, press, MPs and groups like Pub is the Hub and Plunkett.”

Paul Ainsworth, who organised CAMRA’s Pub Saving Award added: “The Harrow CBS group used every tool available to save their beloved pub from closure, and it is an absolute delight to celebrate this with our Pub Saving Award. Once a pub is closed, it is too often lost forever and their success should be a great inspiration to other communities faced with losing their local pubs really can be saved.”

Watch

Find out how The Harrow is supporting the local community in this informative case-study film highlighting their social impact: