Monday, 10 March 2014

Old pub to new co-op: Fox and Goose, Hebden Bridge

From the current edition of the Landworker magazine of Unite. 

The Fox and Goose in Hebden Bridge has become West Yorkshire’s first co-operative pub. The historic pub, where ale has been sold, originally illegally, for over 700 years, was threatened with closure until pub regulars raised over £130,000 to keep it safe.

Co-operative ownership is becoming an increasingly recognised solution to UK pub closures, currently running at the rate of 18 per week. Although many rural pubs are at the centre of the local social network, and contribute to people’s quality of life, they are being hard hit in the current economic climate.

Hebden Bridge is a Calderdale market town of 4,500 inhabitants.  It lies on the Rochdale canal, and is a popular location for outside pursuits such as walking, cycling and climbing. Situated in a steep valley it frequently gets flooded and, as a result, a number of businesses have closed. The Fox and Goose was set to join them when the deteriorating health of the landlady threatened ‘last orders.’

Some 250 pub supporters quickly rallied to the pumps and, in the summer of last year, they raised the funds to buy the traditional real ale pub and to cover essential refurbishments. 

Supporters were able to buy shares from a value of £100 up to £20,000.  Co-operative pubs operate on a ‘one member one vote’ democratic basis to ensure each investor has an equal say in the running of them.

Drew Magiera, who has worked part-time at the pub for almost three decades, was delighted to become the first shareholder as he was born in Rochdale, which was the birthplace of the modern co-operative back in 1844.  There are now an estimated one billion co-operators as members of 1.4 million co-operative societies worldwide. There are specialist support programmes that can help communities to establish co-operative pubs and help them thrive.

Drew is ‘very confident’ the Fox and Goose can enjoy a long future “as the efforts made to save the pub shows its importance to the community.

“We will improve the pub facilities and décor but we will retain the character. The open log fire is the first thing people see when they open the door and we have no piped music or TV. An increasing range of microbreweries supplies our real ale. Everyone who comes through the door is assured of a friendly welcome.”

The new owners of the pub have guaranteed each employee – currently three but due to rise to five – the Living Wage of £7.65 an hour and it has been agreed that the much-loved former landlady can continue living there by renting the flat upstairs.

Julia Long, Unite’s rural national officer, has said she is “pleased to see so many communities rallying to save their local pubs. Good luck to all of them.”

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