Pubs can be listed as ‘Assets of Community Value’, giving communities the right to bid to take over and run them. Community pubs are owned by their members, run democratically, and can help to save under-threat pubs from vanishing or being repurposed.
Community ownership is by no means the only way to ensure that London’s most precious community pubs are saved from extinction, but roundtable participants agreed that it could play an important role in specific cases. To date, there has been relatively little take-up of community ownership in the capital, with a few notable exceptions. The Ivy House in Nunhead and the Antwerp Arms in Tottenham provide evidence that such ownership models can succeed in the capital. The Tommy Flowers in Poplar, a new community pub with an arts focus, benefitting from lottery funding and premises provided by social landlord Poplar HARCA, also provides evidence that different models can also work.
But community groups often struggle to raise the funds necessary to take over an otherwise doomed pub. The amount of money required is notably higher in the capital, and whilst this can be offset somewhat by the fact that London provides a larger pool of potential funders, and possible access to affluent locals, this equation is not always balanced. In addition, the likelihood of community groups forming and coming together can be compromised by the issue of the capital’s density and choice. 13
When one pub closes, there are often several more nearby that can take its place, unlike in smaller rural communities where the village pub may be the only option for many miles.
But as highlighted earlier, Londoners love their pubs, and there are many cases where potential closure has elicited community campaigning even if this has not resulted in community ownership. Different models could be explored too. Existing examples have tended to see community groups run the pubs they take over, but there is no reason why the community could not take control of the asset and bring in a tenant to run it. Running a community-owned pub would not be without challenges for a tenant, but with a supportive community the experience could give a tenant a lot more scope to innovate and develop their business than in a tied pub.
But finance remains an issue. Whilst measures like co-operatives and community ownership could provide a way of saving important community pubs across the capital from vanishing forever, it is difficult to find sources of financing – ‘patient investment’ from people, pension funds and other forms of social investment are hard to come by, and London’s high land values do not help.