Save the Duke
Threatened with the prospect of the pub being de-licensed and sold as a private residence, a local doctor took action and set about saving the vital asset. She was dismayed and saddened at the possibility of losing the last pub in the village and her actions heralded the start of the 'Save the Duke' campaign.
The first step was to organise a public meeting to discuss the closure of the Duke of Marlborough. At that meeting, a campaign was vigorously endorsed and supported by locals.
Next was to establish a steering group, comprised of local people with a wide-range of expertise to direct and run the campaign. A host of volunteers stepped forward offering to be involved in many activities - leafleting and fundraising to events management.
The steering group then approached Plunkett Foundation for guidance and support. They received specialist advice and a funded study visit to The Case is Altered in Bentley, which is another community-owned pub. Several other groups provided invaluable support:
- Somersham Parish Council
- Councillor Julia Truelove
- Mid-Suffolk District Council
The group agreed on the following objectives:
- To get the pub re-opened as a priority!
- To buy the Duke of Marlborough and its grounds, via a share issue
- To conduct a fast, efficient refurbishment in order to reposition the pub
- To carry out any remedial work reducing its carbon footprint
- To make improvements to the groups to provide a larger trading area and make it attractive to passing trade
- To run a viable, thriving and sustainable pub business with a friendly, welcoming community focus
- To be in a position to pay back loans as well as annual interest to investors after 2 years
"The Duke is a beautiful, historic pub; a central feature of village life. We wanted it to stay that way. Quite simply, we refused to accept that 500 years' of local hospitality should come to an end."
"The Duke of Marlborough is in many ways a national as well as a local treasure. It symbolises all pubs that have been the lifeblood of communities for centuries but are now under threat of being turned into residential properties. When we raised our voices about the Duke, we were raising them for all rural pubs at risk."
Sarah Caston, led the Duke of Marlborough campaign
Community ownership is not a new concept in Somersham; a community-owned shop already exists and that was set up with support from the Plunkett Foundation
The local community is predominantly rural and consists of 8 parishes within a 5 mile radius with approx. 2440 residents. Statistics show vulnerable people make up between 20-30% of the community depending on their social situation - age, income, social isolation, health and mobility. There is a higher level of unemployment, ageing population and poor access to transport.
Social Impact Outcomes
- The pub provides a venue to help loneliness and isolation - for anyone living along, the pub is always friendly and welcoming
- Volunteering opportunities and work placements improve community engagement as people are asked to offer up skills and improve their employability
- Increasing trust and familiarity amongst locals - if you know your neighbours you feel safer in your home
- Providing a luncheon club service for the elderly and disadvantaged decreases isolation and ensures older people are not lonely and/or neglected
- A number of commercially astute committee members run the project - people who have the time to devote to the project and are prepared to do so in a volunteer capacity
- A front of house manager, who is entrepreneurial and reliable, was appointed. A talented and ambitious chef was also recruited
- The chef sources and uses high quality local ingredients to create an appetising menu of freshly cooked food