A community benefit society that saved the pub in an Essex village last year has bought a second property that it will convert into a restaurant and affordable rented accommodation. On 19 September Great Oakley Community Hub Ltd completed the purchase of the property known as the Red House which stands next to the Maybush Inn which it bought in February 2016. Loans from Co-operative & Community Finance and the Co-operative Loan Fund have supplemented the investment raised by a second community share issue.
The prospects for the 2,200 people who live in Great Oakley near Harwich have improved greatly since the sad day in 2015 when the village pub was closed and repossessed by the mortgage company.
With help from the Plunkett Foundation they set up a community benefit society and got the Maybush Inn registered as an Asset of Community Value. Following a community share issue that attracted over 130 investors, the pub reopened and a vital part of village social life was restored.
Emboldened by their success the members of the society realised they could do more, and turned their attention to the large empty house and garden next door. They drew up plans for converting the ground floor into a restaurant / café / take-away and the first floor into three flats to provide affordable rented accommodation. They held a second community share issue. Most existing members increased their investment and over 30 new members joined the society.
Mark Godfrey, chairman of Great Oakley Community Hub Ltd, said: “The provision of flats in the heart of the village will make an important difference to the community. They will be attractive to older people who want to downsize and remain independent. At the moment there isn’t anything suitable in Great Oakley. The flats would also suit local young people who want a place of their own.”
The Red House needs significant repair and refurbishment. The restaurant is unlikely to open before summer 2018 and the flats may not be ready until the end of next year.
Unusually the Maybush Inn is run entirely by volunteers, and this further demonstrates the strength of community spirit in the village.
Mark Godfrey said: “It is amazing what we have achieved in the village in the last two years. It shows the power of the community benefit society model. People are prepared to invest their money and work for no pay because they know it is for the benefit of the village, now and in the future.”
Ian Rothwell, Investment Manager at Co-operative & Community Finance, said: “Great Oakley is a community that is really getting things together. The local people were energised by buying the pub last year and now they want to do more. The purchase of the Red House and the proposed provision of rented accommodation is a direct response to local need. This is exactly the sort of community-led enterprise we like to support.”
There are now over 50 co-operative pubs in England and Wales with a notable cluster in Essex and Suffolk. There are also over 20 community-owned village shops within 50 miles of Great Oakley.