Two weeks after learning that the most recent Tenants had left the Fox and sure that there was plenty of interest within the community to intervene, I hosted a public meeting via Zoom to discuss the possibility of turning the Fox Inn into a community pub.
It has been a very difficult time for pubs. According to Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA),18 pubs close every day, but there are now 150 community-owned pubs with more on the way. Because of the exceptional resilience of Community Pubs, they continue to have a 100% success rate. There are Grants and plenty of advice available.
The Fox Inn at Westcote Barton is an important part of our village, having been a busy pub for hundreds of years. There has been a high turnover of tenants in recent years and the pub has often been closed for significant periods. A multinational hospitality company, Stonegate Group, registered in the Cayman Islands, absorbed the previous owner, Enterprise Inns, in 2020. The business model of tying tenants to a single supplier drains as much as 97% of turnover of a thriving pub. This had not worked well for our village pubs in the past.
Whilst we are fortunate to have other resources within our community, the Fox Inn is unique. As a pub, it provides facilities for drinking and dining. It is also a place where members of the local community can meet and socialise. It is popular with all sectors of the community, especially families at weekends. At lunchtimes, it attracts custom from local businesses, including Alpine F1 (Formerly Renault F1) which is based nearby.
The meeting agreed to take the first step and register the Fox as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ (ACV) with West Oxfordshire District Council. This sends a clear message to the owners and potential tenants that this community wants to see a successful and well-run village pub and that our community’s future support is conditional upon this. If it were to be sold in the future, the community would have six months to put in a bid to purchase it. An ACV would also offer additional protection in planning terms should the Fox be the subject of a ‘change of use’ application by the owner.
Over the next couple of weeks, I collected a considerable amount of testimony from villagers that the Fox Inn has furthered the social well-being and social interests of the community. It has also been used for community events and meetings, as a venue for live music, and provided employment opportunities for people locally. Recent Tenants sought to use locally sourced products for their food menu, giving a much-needed boost to local markets.
We learned that In 2012, the Fox had been awarded CAMRA’s ‘Pub of the Year’. 154 locals signed an online petition asking the then owners (Enterprise Inns) to keep the then current Tenants in the Fox, as they were fulfilling its potential as a real asset to the community. Many also left heartfelt comments.
‘Protect Our Fox’ was formed on the 4th of August to submit an application. The necessary signatures of 27 local residents were collected the next day and along with relevant information from the Land Registry, and an application submitted on Friday 6th of August 2021.
Once the ACV is in place, we’re hopeful that Stonegate will invest the time, effort and money needed to bring the Fox Inn up to a high standard; but we also need to be prepared in case history repeats itself. The community will then consider if and how it wants to proceed with a potential bid to purchase the Fox.
If you are interested in helping with this exciting venture, or believe you have skills that would be of use, please email: email@example.com or get in touch through our page on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MBcommunitypub.