The beaming badger | Community ownership
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Community ownership

The recent history…

 

…of the Duke of Marlborough is one of determination, passion, and ultimate success for the community group that now own and run the Duke of Marlborough.

 

In Autumn 2014 the previous owners of the pub, who had successfully been running a restaurant-style business for 13 years, let it be known that they would be retiring and closing at Christmas.  The realisation struck that they would be seeking any buyer – likely someone with an eye on residential conversion.  If that was to happen, Somersham would be left evermore without a village pub, and the village’s 500 year old tradition of hospitality would come to an end.

 

‘NOT ON OUR WATCH’ was the view of one determined villager!  Sarah Caston, from the village’s farming family, persuaded a small group to set up and hold a public meeting in November 2014, to ask if people would support a community buy-out.  Bolstered by the recent success of groups in other Suffolk villages, the mood was high, and an overwhelming positive response came back. The campaign to ‘Save the Duke’ was born!

A commitee of 14…

 

…was formed with, between them, an amazing range of business skills which were to come in very useful over the next three years.

 

Help was immediately sought from the wonderful Plunkett Foundation who continue to support us to this day.  Their sound advice and access to funding was essential and we are not sure we could have done it without them!

 

Somersham Community Pub Ltd, a Community Benefit Society, was duly set in January 2015 with the vision of buying and reopening a thriving, sustainable village pub, run for the benefit of the communities it serves.

 

The first task…

 

…was to consult with the community, and find out what kind of pub and community functions people wanted to see in a reopened pub.  This would help form the business plan and convince fundraisers of our commitment and public support.

 

The pub was registered as an Asset of Community Value with the local council, a move that was to allow the community group the chance to raise sufficient funds to buy the building.

 

The tough task of raising the necessary funds then began in earnest.  Between the summers of 2015 and 2016 over £240,000 was raised through the sale of shares.

We appeared on…

 

Look East, featured regularly on Radio Suffolk and in the EADT.   We held dances, a ceilidh, a quiz – all kinds of awareness and fundraising events.

 

The message began to spread and people from far and wide shared in our optimism and put their hands in their pockets and the investment began to come in.

 

A stint on the well known Crowdfunder website was well worth doing and brought in another wave of shareholders.  This was a particularly period of particular grind for the few souls committed to seeing the campaign, during which it looked like we might never make our target!

A big help…

 

… to the project was the government’s Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) which offered investors a 30% tax break on their investment.  Share purchases still qualify for this incentive. To find out more click here.

 

In the end, a few doughty souls lent us the final sum of money though another government scheme – the  Social Investment Tax Relief scheme, launched in 2017.  We now had the wherewithal, now we had to persuade the owners to sell to us!

 

Despite another bidder stepping in at the last minute, our offer was accepted in October 2017, and we finally took ownership of the Duke in February 2017.   We had done it!

We re-opened…

 

…over Easter 2017 and since then have been gradually extending our opening hours and offer. Permanent staff Kevin and Richard joined in August 2017 and since then the business has been going from strength to strength.   Refurbishment and rebranding has given the pub a fresh look and feel.

 

The work continues for the committee who continue to meet fortnightly.  We continue to manage and plan the business expansion, oversee the refurbishment, plan marketing and PR, seek grant opportunities.

 

A key task over the next 2 years is to sell a further £90,000 in shares to make up the shortfall we have in loans. Would you be interested in investing?

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