The story so far
All the key things you need to know about our campaign to buy back the pub, laid out in a six-slide prezi: (Link to prezi). To delve deeper, read on below...
The full story.
The Royal Oak has been a pub since the early 17th century. It is the last in Hail Weston. For many years it was owned by the Charles Wells Pub Company, but on November 30th 2011 the Royal Oak was put up for auction.
It is believed the decision by Charles Wells related to a number of pending expenses, including repairs to the thatched roof and enhancements to the kitchen, as the tenant was running the pub successfully.Before the auction, feedback from the tenant suggested that most of the interest was from property developers.
Hearing this, a group of concerned local residents made plans for a public meeting to be held at the Royal Oak on December 5th 2011. Ahead of the planned date of the auction, Charles Wells sold the Royal Oak for an undisclosed sum. On December 5th, the public meeting was attended by over 50 local residents, and it was agreed to form a Save the Royal Oak Action Group.
In December the tenant was given notice - the Royal Oak would close on New Year's Day 2012. When the Action Group met on December 13th it was agreed to attempt to identify the new owner, and to contact the District Council Conservation Officer (as the Royal Oak is a Grade II listed building, fixtures and fittings cannot be removed without Listed Building Consent).
In the New Year, on the last day it was open, the pub was full to capacity. By this stage the identity of the new owner had been determined, but not the intentions of the new owner for the building.
On January 17th the new owner, Mr Andrew Vidler, attended a meeting of the Parish Council and disclosed his plans. These were to either (a) run the Royal Oak as a "tea room, art gallery, and beauty parlour", or (b) put the building up for auction. Ten days later it was announced that Royal Oak would indeed be put up for auction on March 7th.
However, at the March 7th auction there were no bids and the Royal Oak was not sold. At the end of March a fence was erected between the pub car park and the garden. In early April it was announced that the Royal Oak would again be put up for auction, on May 3rd, but this time as two separate lots for the building and the large garden, with the estate agent listing implying that both lots had potential for change of use "subject to planning consent", and that access to the garden would be permitted through the driveway of the building lot.
The Parish Council held an Extraordinary General Meeting on April 24th, attended by 130 local residents (Hail Weston has 475 registered electors and 239 properties). Joined by Hail Weston's local District councillor, Jonathan Gray, residents discussed how the Royal Oak could be protected - including through Community Asset status - and the idea that the community could buy back the pub through a share scheme.
Huntingdonshire District Council Head of Planning Services (Steve Ingram) writes to the auction house, warding off developers who might look to convert the Royal Oak into housing. Steve's letter can be read here: Email from HDC on likely planning restrictions, where he states that 'the Royal Oak Public House is the only public house in the village and is considered to be a key service that should be retained', and makes clear that any planning application for residential use would be unlikely to succeed.
At the auction held a few days later, only one bid was offered for each of the two lots, and both bids were less than the reserve price. The pub was subsequently removed from the estate agent's listings.
At a Parish Council meeting on 15th May, a committee was created to explore options for a community bid to purchase and run the Royal Oak. The members of the committee comprise three members of the Parish Council, and members of the previously created Action Group.
At its first meeting on 28th May, the committee looked at the prospects of creating a Community Society. Its objective would be to purchase the Royal Oak, and then find a tenant to run it. The funds to purchase the pub would be raised by issuing shares, (alongside grants and loans). One of the important differences between a Community Society and a limited company is that Community Society members all have an equal vote, whether they have one share or tens of thousands of shares.
Two months later the committee published an outline plan (see: Royal Oak Community Society Plan), endorsed by the Parish Council at its meeting on 17th July. The committee then elected a management committee for the Community Society on 31st July, and began campaigning for the Royal Oak to be given Community Asset status as soon as the Localism Act came into force.
The Hail Weston Community Pub Society was formally registered in October, and along with the Parish Council, submitted an application for the Royal Oak (and gardens) to be registered as Community Assets. This application was confirmed as successful on January 23rd. You can see the formal listing on Huntingdonshire District Council's website here: (hyperlink to HDC List of Assets of Community Value).
Six days later, on January 29th, the Hail Weston Community Pub Society launched its Community Share Scheme (Community Shares) which, coupled with loans and grants, would allow the community to buy the freehold for the Royal Oak and its gardens.
In May 2013 Huntingdonshire District Council investigate ground works in the gardens and decide to remove all Permitted Development Rights for the pub garden.
In June 2013, the owner registered his 'intent to sell' once again. This initiated a 6-month moratorium period to December 2013 - during this time only the Hail Weston Community Pub Society can buy the Royal Oak.
Over 4 weeks in July, volunteers from Hail Weston Community Pub Society canvassed the entire village. This brought a major boost to the community fund in new shares and pledges.
On top its monthly 'makeshift pub nights' (Events), Hail Weston Community Pub Society hosts the bar at the Village Fete. The Pub Society sees another boost in shares and pledges, and in a village of 239 properties, membership hits 154.
At a packed meeting at the Village Hall on Friday 8th November, members agree a community bid. On Sunday 10th, Hail Weston Community Pub Society puts in a formal offer to buy the Royal Oak. Our Community Share Offer continues to raise investment for the pub. To buy shares, simply go to: (Community Shares).