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The remote Northumberland village that asked the world to help save its beloved pub

Ridsdale locals need £200,000 to rescue the one community hub that remains – and they’re getting help from as far away as Kansas

The remote Northumberland village that asked the world to help save its beloved pub
Residents and fundraisers John Bassett, left, and Graham Green outside the Gun Inn. Photograph: Tom White

Having lost its post office, shop, petrol station and garage, the beautifully remote Northumberland village of Ridsdale has a paid a price for the isolation that comes with such sweeping views. But now the community is following a national trend and banding together to save the one thing it has left: the pub.

Determined to prevent the Gun Inn from closing after its owners decided to sell up, Ridsdale locals have formed a group with the goal of achieving a community buyout and offering people the chance to become shareholders in the venture.

The problem is that the villagers need to raise a large sum of money by a planning deadline of 22 December – and there aren’t very many of them. “Momentum is building, but we’re only 80 houses here and we need to raise £200,000 very quickly,” said John Bassett, 74, who chairs the group and has lived in Ridsdale for decades.

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So far the village is a long way short of this target, but if it is hopeful of its chances, it is perhaps because the phenomenon of the community pub is growing. There are about 95 across the UK, according to the Plunkett Foundation, which specialises in helping community businesses, and that number grew by 13% in 2018. The foundation says there is currently a 100% survival rate for the community pubs it knows of, with not a single one ceasing to trade – in stark contrast to the high numbers of conventional pubs closing every year.

“We are living through a time when rural communities are facing tough challenges, including the widespread closures of pubs. Our figures show community pubs can often provide an answer to these challenges. In rural areas they are a lifeline to the people they serve,” said Hannah Barrett, senior project manager at the Plunkett Foundation.

“The issues of isolation and loss of amenities are well known – and community pubs do so much more than just providing a pint. They offer diverse services, from book clubs and drama classes to dementia support groups and lunches for the lonely. They are breathing new life into many rural communities across the UK.”

None of this is news to Graham Green, 59, vice-chairman of the Ridsdale group. “There is tremendous history in Ridsdale, and if we lose this pub we will have no hub for anyone – it will just become a live-in hamlet,” he said. “It’s about the fabric of the village and, for us, this is the glue that holds this place together. Without that it just drifts.”

Shares in the Gun are being offered at £1 each, with a minimum purchase of £500. The project was given a welcome boost when the crime writer Ann Cleeves retweeted the campaign and the locals suddenly received donations from as far afield as New York, Kansas and Michigan.

For Green, the case for keeping the pub in the hands of the community is clear. “There used to be a shop, there was a post office, a garage, a petrol station, a butcher, a village hall. Even further back there were tennis courts and we had a village team. Now all that has gone and we’re down to one bus a week, on a Tuesday,” he said.

“So because of all that the Gun has been central and has been very successful. At New Year we’re all in the road at 5am, singing Auld Lang Syne and it all centres around the pub.”

He added: “There’s still people round here who don’t drive, and this is their lifeline, their meeting point. [It’s] really important for their mental health, to be honest, and we want to expand and put a library in there and all sorts of community activities.

“The key thing is that we need people to hear about this and that they can buy shares and help us keep this community alive.”

Beckley, Oxfordshire

In 2016, the 17th-century Abingdon Arms was saved from closure when it was taken into community ownership. The pub had previously been frequented by the authors Lewis Carroll and Evelyn Waugh.

Redgrave, Suffolk

The Cross Keys, which also dates back to the 17th century, reopened as a community free house and restaurant in March last year after it was purchased by a newly formed interest group for £300,000 at the end of 2017.

The Anglers Rest in Bamford, Derbyshire, also houses a post office branch. Photograph: PR

Bamford, Derbyshire

The Anglers Rest is a community pub and cafe that employs about 25 people, houses a post office and puts an estimated £200,000 a year into the local economy of the Hope Valley in the Peak District.

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