Saving The Swan – community in action at Gressenhall

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A community hub

The village hall, church and pub are three archetypal hubs of rural communities. Many communities across Norfolk have just one pub remaining, whilst some have lost even that.  A familiar story in recent years is that of saving the village pub, an effort requiring skillful organisation, focused fundraising and commitment from those involved.

The Swan at Gressenhall ceased trading in July 2018, the landlord and owner planning to redevelop the site as housing. Members of the community saw an urgent need to buy the building and refurbish and reopen it as a community asset.

The plan

Under the leadership of local residents Alex and Rosie Begg, wheels were set in motion – and the business plan and campaign have been well organised. A steering committee formed, and a feasibility study and cost analysis were undertaken, along with a consultation survey of the community encompassing around 450 households. Persistence paid off. A good relationship was built with the owner of The Swan, who agreed in early 2020 to sell the building at an affordable, realistic price to the newly established Gressenhall Community Enterprise (GCE).

Finding the funds

Georgina Cleere is on the fund-raising committee. She explains: “Having become a community benefit society, the next and crucial step was to raise the £350,000 needed to see the project through from purchase to modern standard. A key element was of course to find the right funding from the right sources.”

“The Plunkett Foundation has provided a £100,000 grant on the basis of 50/50 grant and loan funding as part of the More than a Pub programme. Most of the balance has been raised by a share offer, which has seen £260,000 raised in multiples of £50 shares, bought by 420 investors from within and beyond Gressenhall.”

The share offer ran for five weeks closing on 30th September 2020. The share offer was eligible for Social Investment Tax Relief meaning that most UK tax payers could claim 30 per-cent of the amount invested off their tax bill.

The enterprise, subject to performance, also to intends to pay an annual dividend of 2% from Year 3 – much more than you might get with your money in the bank these days. The project team believes the key motivation for people to invest was to save an important part of the village’s social and cultural heritage to be enjoyed for years to come – and there were also some compelling financial incentives.  

Where the project is now

Social media has also been an important factor in raising awareness of the campaign over a wider area, and the message is that you don’t have to live in Gressenhall to buy into the pub and become part of the community.

“Our group has put in a lot of hard work to get to this point” said Alex Begg, chair of GCE. ““Our dream of saving the last pub in the village is fast becoming a reality. We have just £16,000 more to reach our target.”

Although the deadline for buying shares has closed, the committee welcomes investment and donations from far and wide. “You don’t have to live in Gressenhall to buy into the pub and to become part of our great community” added Mr Begg. And contributions in kind – people’s hands-on skills - will also be welcome when work starts on refurbishing the building.

There’s one more proposed alteration. The Swan will be renamed The White Swan, reverting to its original 18th century title in recognition its longevity in the community.

The passion and commitment of local people to keep the White Swan and turn it into a vibrant hub for the community is inspiring. Find out more at SaveOurSwan and on Facebook here and on the EDP24 website here.

Further advice and guidance

And if you would like advice and guidance on planning and finding funding for a project in your community, talk to one of our highly experienced Community Development Officers – call 01362 698216 or email [email protected] 

The Norfolk VCSE Covid-19 Story

This is part of a series of examples of the huge contribution made by local VCSE organisations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. To understand more about the pivotal role played by Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise organisations in Norfolk’s Covid-19 response effort please read our Norfolk VCSE Covid-19 Story page.