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The Crown Affair – Creating a pub hub for a 21st century Northwold

Earlier in the year my wife Bex and I strolled around the village collecting money for the Village Yard Sale. We met a lot of lovely people and got a rare feeling of the village awakening from a slumber and enjoying each other’s company. I couldn’t help thinking how great would it be if that feeling could be created more often, and more casually.

The recent wonderful History Weekend in the village really highlighted for me what we’ve lost. With our busy lives and ease of click and deliver, it’s easy to miss that a village is more than a collection of houses. It needs points of connection with your neighbours, it needs the opportunities to create a community that casual contact in shops and public houses used to provide. The weekend showed that in the past this was a strongly communal village, connected by multiple points of contact – pubs and shops among them. Now we have the Sports and Social Club, the St Andrew's Church and the Village Hall, all of which a few people are working really hard to keep going. Each is integral to the village, but none replace what we’ve lost over time. And now we’re on the verge of becoming a village without a pub. Let me say that again – a village without a pub. Does that sound wrong to you too? Perhaps it’s time to look at what we want our village to be?

The idea of purchasing the pub and turning it into a place that serves multiple purposes is a bold one, but transforming it into a community asset is a chance to feed the potential this lovely village has, and for us all to choose what kind of village we want to belong to – one with a beating heart, or one without. It’s going to be a tough journey, but if we don’t step up now it’s hard to see a second chance ahead of us. Cometh the hour, cometh the people – and that means all of us.

Here’s the rollercoaster ride toward a community owned Crown Inn, so far. Strap yourself in:
Mark Vanderstay, masochist that he must be, set up the Steering Group following a well-attended initial meeting. Lots of ideas emerged about the facilities that could be incorporated into the pub, operating as a village ‘hub’. These included a Pizza oven, café, shop, homework club and internet facility for silver surfers without their own computer. Imagine a space that has a shifting purpose throughout the day and evening. Serving different needs and different groups, and providing a benefit for everyone in the village. That’s the vision we launched our Community Action Group (CAG) with.

The first step is to get the pub accepted as an Asset of Community Value. This gives our CAG the right to bid – not the right to buy – within a 6-month window. It’s a breathing space for us to attract the funding we’ll need. The first step was approaching the Parish Council, who voted to support us. Yay! Then it went to the Borough Council, who, through a thought process one can only guess at, decided that the pub was ‘not currently considered to be of important local social benefit’. Boo! Where to start? The fact that it isn’t a present benefit is what is prompting this campaign, duh! The potential for the only pub in the village to be a key benefit to residents seems pretty obvious.

Were we deterred after we stopped stomping our feet? Not a bit.

We girded our loins and resubmitted to the Parish council, who again supported the application and this time we have the support of our MP Elizabeth Truss. Fingers crossed the Borough Council are awake this time.
The good news is that we’ve received support and a small bursary from the Plunkett Foundation, we’ve found a treasurer, and are learning more about what we need to do as the days go by. A team is emerging, and it needs to grow.
We’re looking to create a Community Benefit Society, which is a member owned organisation and you could be a member. Yes you.
Obviously, we’ll keep you updated and be asking for your opinion as we move forward. We’ll also be appealing for you to help if you share our vision. We’ll need to show the village is together in this. As a community we could create something pretty special – and we need you to be part of it, in whatever capacity you have time for. Watch this space – and these information points we’ve set up:
Our dedicated website - savethecrowninn.uk or
Our Facebook Group

Alternatively, if you'd prefer to speak to a human you can call us on 01366 308381 and (if we're available) have a chat!

The Crown Affair – Creating a pub hub for a 21st century Northwold
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