The Story So Far
1. How the campaign was first established
As the Chairman of the Furze Platt Action Group (FPAG) I suggested that we list the Craufurd Arms as an Asset of Community Value when the incumbent landlord decided that he did not want to renew his lease in May 2015. The FPAG challenged the conversion of the popular Golden Harp pub to a Tesco convenience store for two years but weak planning laws and the existence of a secretly negotiated twenty year lease meant that we were ultimately unsuccessful. The Craufurd Arms, now the last pub in North Maidenhead, remained trading under a number of temporary managers.
On 23rd August 2016 the Wellington Pub Company issued a Notice of Relevant Disposal to the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM). The very next night we held a meeting in the pub and decided to apply for a Right to Bid in order to start the process to bring the Craufurd Arms into community ownership. In the following week a set-up fund was initiated, a Steering Committee was elected and the Craufurd Arms Community Group (CACG) was formed.
Our aim was to transform the Craufurd Arms into a thriving, viable and sustainable local pub with links to the local community. We wanted to create a flourishing business owned by local shareholders and run for the benefit of the community it serves. It was also our intention to showcase local real ale and cider producers and make the Craufurd Arms a destination pub for real ale and cider lovers.
With the help and advice of the Plunkett Foundation and Our Community Enterprise we decided to register our ‘Right to Bid’ and go down the Community Benefit Society (CBS) route.
2. How we gathered evidence and information
We began to hold weekly meetings in the pub, and set up a website and Facebook page to publicise our campaign. We distributed and collated a Residents Survey* both on-line and by door-to-door deliveries to establish what the local people and regulars at the pub wanted from their local. We had a public meeting at a local school and successfully registered our ‘Right to Bid’ within the required six weeks, which halted the sale for six months, allowing us time to become an incorporated Community Benefit Society and raise the required funds to purchase the pub and provide start-up capital for the business. The pub was on the market for £325,000 + VAT. * Residents Survey attached here
Information on the profitability and running costs of the pub was obtained from the experiences of previous managers and pubs of a similar size. The Plunkett Foundation organised a study visit to the Antwerp Arms in Tottenham, one of the two community pubs in London.
3. How we engaged with the community and pub users
The results of the Residents Survey were published and work began on our Business Plan and Impact Plan. During our weekly meetings locals and interested parties voiced their opinions and offered their support in all kinds of ways from delivering leaflets to producing Profit and Loss forecasts.
In October we received a £2,500 Bursary Grant from the Plunkett Foundation and this, coupled with the £4,000 donated by the local community put us in a position to increase our marketing budget and register a Community Benefit Society. On the 1st November 2016 a Management Committee was elected and the Craufurd Arms Society Limited was registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
The following night we raised over £500 for the Alzheimers Dementia Support group, one of the local charities that we aim to support. I have enclosed a copy of our Impact Plan outlining our proposed charitable and community activities, which was a major factor in ensuring that we were eligible for grants and loans from the More Than a Pub scheme as well as the Standard Mark accreditation, which was necessary to qualify for the Big Society Crowdfunder Match Fund.
4. How we achieved publicity for our aims
Right from the start we realised that we had to involve as many people as we could who were passionate about preserving pubs and ensuring that these important community centres are saved for generations to come. The support we received from CAMRA, both from the head office and our local branch, played a major part in this. Various articles in the branch’s award winning CAMRA Angle magazine and What’s Brewing helped publicise our campaign. We also received fantastic support from our local newspapers and radio stations. Our group email list grew to over 250 and we put out weekly updates to keep everyone informed about what was going on. Posting on our Facebook page and the Pub Protect page also raised our profile both in the Borough and nationally.
5. How we went about lobbying and influencing decision-makers
We sought support from our local Council, Ward Councillors and Theresa May our MP. Our strong Business Plan and Impact Plan helped us gain our Standard Mark accreditation and ensured that we were one of the first groups to attract funding from the More Than a Pub scheme and the Big Society Capital Crowdfunder Match Fund.
Our share offer was widely publicised through Facebook, the Crowdfunder website, local press and door to door leaflet drops. The response was incredible, resulting in 229 members investing £313,750 including £100,000 from the BSC. Through the Plunkett Foundation, the Community Pub Business Support Programme awarded us a £30,000 loan and a £70,000 unsecured loan from the More Than a Pub scheme.
6. How success was actually achieved
Any campaigner will tell you that achieving success is all about momentum. You need to build up a head of steam which brings people with you and creates a mood of positivity which becomes infectious. Suddenly everyone wants to be involved, offers of help come from unlikely sources, including an extremely generous contribution from Sir Robert and Lady Georgina Craufurd (after whose family the pub is named) and a letter of support from the Prime Minister.
Early in the year it became apparent that we were not the strongest bid and the Committee had an important decision to make: whether to up our bid and stay in contention or risk losing the last pub in North Maidenhead forever. After a very tense meeting we voted to continue fighting. Members of the group wrote to the owners asking them to consider the importance of the pub as a community centre. We managed to increase our offer thanks mainly to an additional £20,000 grant received from the Plunkett Foundation and a £93,000 secured loan received from the Co-operative and Community Finance from the Industrial Common Ownership Fund Plc. The Royal Borough had offered us a loan of £65,000 to cover the VAT payment which we graciously declined. The RBWM Council also proposed to progress a non-immediate Article 4 direction to remove the permitted development rights relating to pubs, something that they later withdrew as it was superseded by an amendment to legislation which secures the same effect. We also received advanced Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR) assurance from the HMRC which would ensure tax benefits for our investors.
The six month moratorium ended on the 23rd February and we continued to fund raise and negotiate with the owners until eventually on the 19th April they accepted our offer. Ten weeks later we completed, so the Craufurd Arms became Maidenhead’s first Community Benefit Society (CBS) owned pub and England’s fiftieth.
Our success was well publicised by various press releases and articles, including a write up in the Guardian newspaper. I was interviewed by Sarah Walker on BBC Radio Berkshire and the Craufurd Arms was featured on the BBC Radio 4 ‘You and Yours’ magazine programme.
After only six months of operation our weekly turnover has already reached our 2027 forecast and we are well on our way to achieving our Impact Plan targets for Year 1. We have already held a couple of Real Ale & Cider Festivals as well as hosting a number of charity events at the pub. We are also committed to mentor and advise other groups facing the loss of their much-loved locals.
With the help of our members and supporters the Craufurd Arms – our Pint-Sized Community Pub – can thrive and prosper as a vital social and community hub and a profitable business which just happens to serve a fantastic selection of real ale and ciders.
Craufurd Arms Society Ltd – Chairman (2016-2021)