How a village raised enough to buy a pub... with help from Stephen Fry

Villagers in Stoke Ferry came together to save The Blue Bell pub.

Villagers in Stoke Ferry came together for a share offer event to save The Blue Bell pub. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Following a year-long campaign to save their last remaining pub, villagers are "hopeful" they will be in a position to purchase it soon despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus.

People in Stoke Ferry have rallied together to save their rural pub by holding fundraising events and investing in shares to raise money to buy it from its current owner Oxygen 56 Ltd.

The Blue Bell Inn, which has served the community for more than 200 years, has been closed for almost three years and was potentially going to be sold and converted to a residential property.

Villagers in Stoke Ferry come together to save The Blue Bell pub.

Villagers in Stoke Ferry come together to save The Blue Bell pub. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

But a Save The Blue Bell campaign group expressed villagers' desires for it to remain a pub, setting out a business plan to see it reopen as a community-owned hub.

A survey carried out last March revealed there was "overwhelming support" for a pub in the village - out of 153 responders, 141 thought there should be one.

The group formed Stoke Ferry Community Enterprises to try to raise £280,000 to buy and renovate the building and launched a share offer in November, which has raised more than £70,000 and has around 240 investors.

Chair Stephen Ward said: "Taken together with the More than a Pub loan and grant of £100,000 we are very close to being able to buy the pub.

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

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

"The owners have agreed to sell to us and once we have the structural survey results we will begin the negotiations to agree the final price."

Recent backing from actor and author Stephen Fry and standup comedian and TV personality Stephen K Amos "massively boosted" this support.

Member Jim McNeill said: "Our share offering is going really well with investments coming from Stoke Ferry, surrounding villages, and wider afield including the USA, Canada and India."

Planning applications to turn the pub into housing were rejected by West Norfolk Council and Mr McNeill said they are hopeful they will be able to make a "firm offer" to the owners, with a view of developing a "detailed schedule of works" to reopen the pub in August.

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Alex Powell, property manager at Oxygen 56, said the plans to sell and change its use came after they were unable to get a tenant.

He added: "Aside from the recent offer from the local community there haven’t been any genuine ones.

"We’ve never had an issue selling it to the community, our only issue is that it has taken a long time to raise the money and get to a position where they can buy it. 

1,200 raised at Stoke Ferry Takeover to help fund the campaign to reopen the Blue Bell as a communit

1,200 raised at Stoke Ferry Takeover to help fund the campaign to reopen the Blue Bell as a community pub and hub. Picture: Stephen Ward - Credit: Archant

"It’s a lovely building and we’re really happy it can be brought back in to use.

"Credit should go to Stephen Ward and team for creating the business plan and vision to retain it as a pub."

He said a transaction for the purchase of the pub is expected to be complete in February.

Mr Ward said: "This has been a really unusual campaign because despite it having a very local focus, the pandemic has meant we’ve had to rely on social media, local newspapers and radio and internationally-known Stephen Fry to get the message out and mobilise people in our own village.

"The Blue Bell will be the new beating heart of what can be again a lively, welcoming community of friends and neighbours taking action together to improve lives.

"We hope that, much more than just a pub, the Blue Bell will be a hub for new projects and a catalyst for new groups with new plans."

Here's why people believe investing in the pub is important: