Go For It With The White Lion!

Village resident and local parish councillor David Leader led the Public Meeting with the majority of his Steering Group in the Comrades Hall last night concerning the future of the White Lion Pub.

David began by introducing the Steering Group, all village residents, to those present…
From left to right in the photograph:

  • Luke Pickering – Over 10yrs experience of running pubs. Currently senior management at Screwfix.
  • Chris Edgerley – Very much involved with the village shop & the Comrades Hall. “We rely on him massively for lots of the good work that takes place in our community“. Chris recently rebuilt the wall in Bernards’ Place (read more about the wall HERE).
  • David Leader – Parish councillor, retired police officer, Chairman of the Comrades Hall Committee & runs a small holiday cottage with his wife in the village. (Does an immense amount of work for this community!).
  • Susannah Newall – A director of Specsavers, Bridport. Was up until recently Chairman at Bridport Leisure Centre.
  • Fraser Hughes – Parish councillor and a key figure in establishing the village shop. Retired from a career in marketing.
  • John Heys – Also very involved with the village shop. An engineer by profession in charge of multi-million pound projects,
  • Sandra Burrows – a lifetime of running customer based businesses, a key member of the shop committee and “well versed in all things to do with finance

Four members of the group were absent:

  1. Susannah’s husband, Chris Newall.
  2. Charles Ouin – A lifetime’s experience in law as a solicitor, Charles is helping the group with legal matters.
  3. & 4. Andrew & Margery Hookings – who were not present nor acknowledged as being on the Steering Committee at the time.

David Leader explained how, approximately two months ago, he had been approached by Palmers, as a member of the Parish Council after they had failed to find tenants to replace Spike & Vikki, enquiring whether the venture of a Community Pub could be considered. The Steering Group was established to investigate all the aspects of taking this on.

Many meetings and conversations with Palmers have taken place over this time.  Their first priority was community feedback to find out what was wanted.  Fraser Hughes then delivered the statistics from the data analysis:

  • There had been a 58% return from the 356 questionnaires distributed.  This was thought a good representation for the village compared to general and local election poll turnouts and taking into account second home owners and those on holiday.
  • Broadwindsor.org‘s headline of 95% say Yes! Keep Our Pub said it all – it’s more attractive to property seekers, confirmed by estate agents.
  • Attendance41% stated they’d visit the pub once a week or more; 17% stated once a fortnight or more; 35% stated occasionally.
  • The main reason for visiting the pub27% stated for food and not drink. Palmers confirmed that this was the upward trend compared with 23% going to the pub for just a drink.
  • Opening hours: 33% were happy for Thursday – Saturday opening compared with 20% who would like it open every day. Food would be preferred on Friday & Saturday evenings and Sunday lunchtime.
  • Although not included in the questionnaire, a significant amount of people had commented about including a  Tuesday night to accommodate L&F’s catering (the chippy van) business – this would be included in their plan.
  • 87% wanted a traditional pub atmosphere, 85% wanted it to be family friendly & 65% wanted a garden or outside space. 54% wanted it to be pet friendly.  The other things on offer? Some were more popular than others but it certainly wasn’t the main reason people went to the pub.
  • It was felt that the Comrades Hall met most of the requirements for the other social occasions we have.
  • What needs to change? The decor was at the top of the list, described by Fraser as “a tired, dark and dismal pub in need of change”. Improvements in the food offered was second. 18% requested Guest ales but unfortunately, Palmers will not entertain this idea whatsoever.

Fraser stated that the situation with Palmers was, if the pub wasn’t taken on, planning permission would be applied for; it would eventually be converted into accommodation on Palmers’ portfolio and lost, like so many rural pubs, forever.  To go ahead with this project, the minimum that has to be raised is £30,000*.

David Leader
then spoke of how he was cynical and wary of Palmers initially, particularly as their initial offer was totally unaffordable with a full repairing lease.   It was fair to say that Palmers had moved their position considerably.  They are confident that they have “reached an agreement ‘ in principle’, that allows the pub to survive and provide a financial working model that means that we can make it work…as a community enterprise, we don’t need to make huge profits.

David reiterated that although they had asked Palmers several times to sell the pub – this was not an option they were prepared to consider.  The Community Pub will be tied to Palmers’ beers, wines & spirits but their stocklist was far more extensive than they had realised, giving greater scope than they had been aware of. This had to be accepted for the project to move forward.

Luke Pickering then took the floor to discuss the models they had looked at. Information had been provided from Palmers and from previous landlords, Spike & Vikki.  “A hard way to make a living… but as a community model, it can work.” He proposed the pub being open Tuesday night, Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday.
What would make us exclusive from other community pubs is that the community would be the tenant.  A salaried manager would be employed. He had completed a business plan which demonstrated that recent figures could generate enough profit to “keep it ticking over“.

David then returned stating that moving forward, there was a huge amount of work to do: there needs to be a government strategy and many legalities to be resolved before any work can take place. The village shop was a model that could be replicated in the pub with the combination of paid staff and volunteers. With the support of the community – a similar success story could take place. It would have to be used or else it would fail!  All opportunities and suggestions would be explored to try and make it the best possible place it can be.

*The £30,000 would cover essential refurbishment work, provide working capital to get it going, to do all the legal aspects and all that they are unable to do themselves.  All potential funding sources would be explored and considered, including Crowdfunder to get the project started.

The Steering Group then invited questions from the floor, responses included…

  • The Rent – involves a 3yr renewable lease. Substantial discounts have been offered by Palmers for the first two years with a lower rate than most for the third year.
  • Palmers’ take – If the project goes ahead, it starts with a very favourable deal from Palmers. Afterwards it would be approx. 8% of turnover.  Palmers began by requesting the Parish Council rent the building and take on a full repairing lease for this 300yr old listed building which was an impossible and unaffordable situation for the Parish Council to take on.
  • If the arrangement goes ahead, Palmers would be responsible for the entire building and all the services in it.  The community, as tenant would be liaible for all interior decoration. Palmers intend to decorate the exterior of the pub in September 2021.
  • Occupancy of the premises above the pub would depend on the employed manager.
  • There appeared to be a misunderstanding of the survey figures by some as the figures involved were representing households and not individuals.
  • Luke confirmed that there were not enough people in the village alone to keep the pub going…. unless we all become alcoholics! The pub has to be somewhere you want to go to.
  • Volunteers will be essential.
  • A chef would also be employed.
  • Drimpton‘s Royal Oak was given a plug and as an example of how good food can attract visitors by Drimpton resident Steve Chubb.
  • Although all want the project to succeed – what if the project should fail? – There is a 6 month Break clause in the agreement which operates both ways.
  • We have to be viable – otherwise we walk away.” – David Leader.
  • There will be a governance process that has to be worked through but they are not at that stage yet.
  • If successful – the $64 million question… When will the pub be open? A good question but not one they are in a position to answer completely at this time.  Of course they want it open as soon as – but it will take some time: the legalities; the refurbisment; the staff; the produce and more.
  • There is no point in opening the pub in its current state.
  • The living accommodation could not be rented out in its current state. Access would also pose a problem to renting it out separately.
  • History has shown that the wealthy benefactor type scenario doesn’t work in this community. What does work in this community is lots of people giving little bits of both financial help and time help – it’s certainly worked and will continue to work. ” –
  • Shareholding has been discussed and remains an option once it has been confirmed that they will proceed with the project.
  • It is estimated that the annual turnover has to reach £150,000 to make it work.

David stated that initially he was very cynical of Palmers for many reasons, their first offer being shocking. Over the past two months however, following several communications with Tenanted Trade Director of Palmers, Jim Jones, he was convinced that he was working very hard and pushing boundaries to make this project work and to get a deal for the village first and foremost.  If it can be made to work here, Palmers have many struggling rural pubs that may adopt this model.

Of note if successful – The White Lion, Broadwindsor will be the first Community Tenancy of a Pub. The White Lion was also Palmers first pub in Dorset – Definitely worth hanging on to!

All those present voted unanimously with a show of hands for the Steering Group to proceed with their negotiations with Palmers and keep the White Lion in Broadwindsor.
Broadwindsor.org will keep you informed of further negotiations and public meetings.

Fingers Crossed

Broadwindsor.org will keep you informed of further negotiations and public meetings. Not everyone has or uses the internet and/or social media – please discuss and/or share this information with your neighbour 🙂