Why do we need a community shop or pub?
The simplest option and the preference of the current owners of both the shop and the Royal Oak would be to sell their businesses as going concerns, but the two pubs and the shop have all been on the market for several years without finding realistic buyers. We commend the owners for continuing to keep the businesses open, but we cannot expect them to do this for much longer. If they close, and are sold as housing, the village will lose three important meeting places and a major aspect of what keeps a village alive. This could mark the beginning of a slow decline that makes Stoke St Gregory a less desirable place to live, leading to lower house prices and ultimate stagnation. If the community were to own and operate the shop and the pub, not only would we preserve two important services, but the achievement of setting them up and operating them collectively would be hugely beneficial to community morale.
The PC has been taking advice from the Plunkett Foundation, a charity who have had experience of helping communities set up collective enterprises for nearly 100 years. They have helped set up hundreds of community shops in the last 25 years, 96% of which are still trading. The trend for co-operative pubs began later, but they have been equally successful.
In order to set up a community business, several major hurdles need to be jumped, the first of which is establishing community support. We need to know whether enough people want the business, will help run it, and will use it.
The results of the village-wide survey going out next weekend should tell us whether or not we have enough support to take the project further. If there is a low return or the return is negative, we will not be successful in our application for grants and we would probably have to abandon the idea. It is, therefore, important that as many individuals as possible complete the survey. This can be done in a number of ways:
1) Several forms will be being delivered to you door, and collected again within 10 days. If for any reason they are not collected, please return them to them village shop or to Graham Gleed (The Manse, Griggs Hill, Stoke St Gregory, TA3 6JG).
The results of the survey can now be read here.
How would it work
The next major hurdle is raising enough money to float the business, and maybe to buy the Royal Oak. Typically, most of the money for a community project like this comes from grants and low interest public works loans, but in order to secure these, a proportion has to be raised locally via fund-raising events, donations and residents buying shares in the business. These booklets from Plunkett on How to set up a Community Shop and Co-operative Pub explain the nuts and bolts very well. Any new housing in the village would also open the possibility of Community Infrastructure Levy payments and other contributions which could be fed into the mix. A business plan has been drawn up which suggests that given a reasonable degree of support in the community, both businesses could operate at a profit and gradually pay of any loans required to set them up.
We would probably follow the advice of the Plunkett Foundation in setting up any business as some sort of Community Benefit Society, in which those buying shares would jointly own the business on behalf of the community, and all have an equal democratic share in determining how the business was run. All these decisions would be decided at a public meeting.
The Royal Oak on VJ Day
courtesy of Dave Evans