Campaigners praised in national award after saving last village pub

Residents in Stoke Ferry officially celebrated saving the Blue Bell Inn on Saturday.

Residents in Stoke Ferry officially celebrating the Blue Bell Inn in July. - Credit: Blue Bell Campaign

Campaigners in a west Norfolk village have again been recognised for their efforts in saving their pub after winning a second major award.

The team behind the Save the Blue Bell Inn project in Stoke Ferry, near Downham Market, has received the 'Pub Saving Award' from the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).

The annual prize recognises people who have come together to save a pub that would have otherwise been demolished or converted to another use.

Work is currently ongoing in Stoke Ferry to restore and reopen the Blue Bell Inn.

Work is currently ongoing in Stoke Ferry to restore and reopen the Blue Bell Inn. - Credit: UK Power Networks

It comes after volunteers were given the Plunkett Foundation's Rural Community Business Award.

The Blue Bell closed in March 2018 as result of poor trading, and was potentially going to be turned into a residential property by its previous owners.

Villagers were determined to keep the pub in the community and came together to raise £280,000 to buy and renovate the building, gaining the support of celebrities including Stephen Fry and Stephen K Amos.

Members of the local community formed Stoke Ferry Community Enterprise Limited to purchase the pub and secured its successful buy-out in June, following 17 months of fundraising events and efforts.

Renovation is currently underway, with around 72 volunteers carrying out work to open the the Blue Bell fully as a community owned pub, café and hub in March 2022.

One of CAMRA's judges described their journey as "a tale of dogged persistence ending in triumph".

Stephen Ward, chairman of the Stoke Ferry group, said: “This prestigious award from CAMRA is fantastic recognition of the entire community of Stoke Ferry and beyond that came together to fight for the future of the Blue Bell.

Stephen Ward is leading the campaign to reopen the Blue Bell as a community pub. Picture: Stephen W

Stephen Ward. - Credit: Stephen Ward

"From opposing developers to raising the funds to buy the pub and now to the renovation, there has been an amazing effort by hundreds of people, made all the more impressive by the background of the pandemic."

Jeff Hoyle, of West Norfolk CAMRA, said: "The dedication and expertise of the many volunteers involved in the project has been amazing.

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"They deserve all the praise that they have received, but their biggest achievement will be in a few months’ time when the Blue Bell is once again open for business.

"Congratulations to all those involved.”

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