There’s nothing quite like finishing the week speaking to a room full of people.
It wasn’t how I would normally choose to end a busy working timetable but Liz Truss’ schedule is busier than mine and her attendance at this meeting was important, so I relented.
I’m glad I did. The village hall was bigger than I remembered so when I arrived that evening I saw rows and rows of empty chairs. That alone made me feel a little panicky. Public speaking is not my strong point. My steering group and a couple of kind volunteers had set out the room. We'd borrowed a projector from the school, still warm from use in Friday assembly and at the last minute decided we'd have to project onto the wall instead of the village hall's own screen which is so old it's smaller than most modern TVs.
As people started arriving I spoke with a journalist from the Lynn News who wanted to know all the details so far. He'd just seen Liz Truss outside the pub so she would arrive any minute. Obligingly I answered his questions, my attention constantly diverted to the whereabouts of the various steering group members. I had something to share with them before the evening began. As soon as possible we gathered in the kitchen where we huddled as I spoke.
I told them this was no longer a campaign of diplomacy. We'd wasted too much time considering the thoughts and feelings of the owners. We'd listened to their concerns, considered including them in our discussion, agreed with them to have some meetings in the pub and politely asked all concerned not to throw insults on Facebook. At every turn the owners refused to listen to us. Every opportunity they had to explain why they invited the community to buy but were obstructing the process was met with blank expressions and pointless questioning. They were now refusing to serve members of the steering group. The 'facts' didn't add up.
After Liz Truss had arrived, Cliff started the meeting. I took my place and spoke openly and honestly, sharing some of the moments that led to the decision to step forward and begin the community purchase process. I was there to represent our campaign and I believe I did so without indifference and without malice. There were pauses while I carefully considered my words and these hesitations must’ve appeared worrying for the rest of the steering group who had seen my slides but had no idea what I was about to say.
Speaking out loud to a crowd is difficult. I will be the first to admit that I do not like it. But speaking out loud to a crowd about something you feel passionately about is much easier. I was encouraged by the nods of agreement amongst the audience. Encouraged by the applause. Encouraged by the offer of wine (please step forward that kind lady!). I was also encouraged by the words of our local MP, Elizabeth Truss;
The fact this room is so full shows the interest in having a pub in the village.
There are many fantastic pubs around South West Norfolk and I want to see one here. There are huge opportunities.
Elizabeth was also keen to answer questions from the audience, pointing out the purpose of the ACV process and the Localism Act 2011. Further communications with Liz reassure us of her support for our campaign;
It is widely acknowledged that having a vibrant pub in a village not only is a boost for tourism, the local economy and employment opportunities, but also enhances the sense of community in rural areas. The pub is due to close its doors at the end of this month and a focal point of the village will sadly be lost.
After we switched out the lights and locked the heavy village hall door that evening I visited the Sports and Social Club where I heard an amazing story of a WWII gunner, the difficulties of local politics and caught up on the recent past of a friend that I thought I'd lost due to a series of house moves. That sort of thing only happens when people get together. It's true that you don't really know what you have until it's gone. In Northwold we have a community spirit that I for one am proud of and want to keep.
Thank you to those who attended, those who subsequently pledged and those who are following this opportunity to better our community. Thank you to the school for loaning us the projector, to those who volunteered and to those who asked questions. Please continue to keep the pledges coming!
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