The local community raised nearly £500,000 to buy and refurbish the 150 year building. The community share issue attracted £326,000 from 190 investors and the remainder came from loans from Co-operative & Community Finance and The Co-operative Loan Fund and a grant from Solent Local Enterprise Partnership.
Locals were dismayed when the pub closed in April 2012 and the owner applied for planning permission to demolish the building and erect private dwellings. They opposed the plans and eventually succeeded in having the pub registered as an asset of community value. As a result Winchester City Council refused planning permission and the way was clear for the community co-operative to make an offer to purchase. The sale was completed in July 2014 and then the extensive refurbishment began – almost everything had to be replaced.
Rob Stark, one of the directors of the community co-operative, said: “It’s been a long haul since we started the campaign to save our pub in April 2012. We didn’t decide to be a community co-operative until nearly a year later. It’s a relatively new idea and it was hard to get the advice we needed.
“We’ve been doing very well since the pub reopened in December, slightly better than predicted. But we had a sad setback in February when one of our founders died. Jon Pocock will be sadly missed in the local community.”
The co-operative decided that it would be best to have the pub run by tenants and has engaged an experienced couple who had already run a successful pub and restaurant nearby as tenants. In addition to his skills as a landlord, Stephen Pratt has a reputation as an Elvis impersonator.
The co-operative is run by a voluntary board of five directors and local members also help with specific tasks to improve the venture such as gardening.
Ian Rothwell of Co-operative & Community Finance said: “This community group had to jump a lot of hurdles to get here. The owner was hostile, they received some poor advice and some funding didn’t materialise. When they contacted us for a loan they were delighted by how straightforward it was.
I think the Fox and Hounds is going to do very well.