Beer cheer: Auctioneers Arms is a glowing example of what can be achieved when locals make a stand.
The cheering prospect comes after tough months for the pub that was reborn in 2018 after being saved from a property developer’s demolition plans. Rescued by a tenacious campaign staged by volunteer locals in Caverswall, a village in the historic Staffordshire Moorlands, their victory led to the transformation of a dying, old-style boozer.
After temporary ring-fencing protected the site as an asset of community value, a £350,000 crowdfunding campaign enabled the property to be purchased and reinvented.
Now owned by 220 shareholders of the Caverswall Community Society the business has received vital backing from socially driven organisations helping to improve life for locals such as Power to Change and the Plunkett Foundation as well as the Big Lottery Fund.
Together the network of expertise enabled the Auctioneers Arms’ rise anew become an independent venue where fine local beers, including Peakstones Rock and Titanic, are served along with meals and refreshments in its new Gavel brasserie.
Live entertainment, quiz sessions and special event hosting are also part of a mix that includes free places for community groups from crafting to learning first aid.
Stakeholder treasure: Brian Griffiths has led a supreme local effort to keep the pub going.
“We knew to succeed there had to be wholesale changes. We overcame negativity, volunteers pitched in every skill they possessed and we grew from strength to strength in the first two years, far outweighing the original business plan,” says Brian Griffiths, a project founder, former chair and now its secretary.
“Our aim was to be as varied and interesting as possible, we even have members overseas in California and Australia. Our plucky stand captured their imaginations.”
The business’s stakeholder Community Benefit Society model allows any profit to be reinvested or go towards helping other local facilities with remaining funds paid as a small dividend.
“We ensure we’re sustainable while creating employment and volunteer opportunities. We have a great manager, full time and part time bar staff, and work experience and apprenticeship opportunities,” Griffiths explains.
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“Customers live locally but also come from outside the area, we’ve worked hard to build a reputation for great service. We’re hoping for a good Christmas and next year becoming a choice for more public sector meetings.”
After such a rousing start lockdown was a bitter blow, but it has also proved the durability of the community pub business model, he believes.
“It has been hard, but we know what it is like to overcome challenges. Having achieved so much in a very short time there was no way we were giving up. We threw everything we had at it.
“We furloughed staff, stock had to be removed and we shut down for a while. But we reduced costs by 80 per cent, got holidays for some of the business loans and secured grant funding.
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“Managing all the new aspects so we were compliant and could continue our maintenance responsibilities wasn’t easy. We couldn’t have done it without Plunkett’s guidance.
“They have delivered a community pubs masterclass in how to get funding and our £25,000 grant from Power to Change came just at the right moment getting us back from the brink.”
When Covid struck the business was just getting into profit, it’s now close to pre-pandemic levels and turnover is expected to be £311,000 by 2023.
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A plan to open up the share offer will be put to members very soon. Should that be agreed upgrades to the kitchen, expanding the catering, and washroom area will be top of the investment agenda.
While the pub sector generally continues to contend with closures, community ones are bucking the trend, according to the Plunkett Foundation.
It has found that the pandemic has prompted greater interest in community owned pubs which have shown to be especially resilient. Last year it received a 53 per cent increase in inquiries and is currently supporting over 250 groups with their ownership plans.
With the Auctioneers Arms’ Christmas Fayre, complete with a tasty festive menu, fast approaching, “saving our pub has been a fantastic thing in many ways,” says Griffiths. “Our village has discovered it’s got more community spirit than it realised.”