Village hall pub serves up community spirit
A barman has set up a pub in his local village hall to revive the community spirit in Briningham.
It's a sad but familiar tale: A close-knit Norfolk village becomes increasingly insular and disconnected as its post office and shop close down.
To make matters worse, the traditional pub has not pulled a pint for 40 years.
But far from forlornly mourning their lost meeting places, the people of Briningham have been served a generous measure of community spirit – at a pub set up in their village hall.
Enterprising barman Paul Rogers came up with the idea in response to a plea in the parish magazine to help the under-used community building reach its full potential.
He has used his expertise in running a mobile bar business to recreate an atmosphere of clinking glasses and chatty banter every Thursday night in the village, between Fakenham and Holt.
Up to 30 people come along during opening hours – even pitching in to man the pumps when the temporary landlord is not available.
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But after finally finding somewhere to have a pint and a chat, many of Mr Rogers' regular punters have also reported surprising and fundamental community benefits, such as greater social inclusion for the elderly and more word-of-mouth business won by local tradesmen.
Now he hopes to recreate the phenomenon for neglected drinkers in other Norfolk villages.
'One of the reasons I started doing this was I had lived here for six years and I didn't know a single soul in the village,' he said. 'Now I have become very friendly with a lot of people who I never knew existed.
'We have one guy who comes regularly called Dennis whose wife is in a home. He is 85 and he is fit as a fiddle, but I love the fact that he has now got somewhere he can come out and meet people.
'Even if he was the only customer, I would still open up just for him. He has become a good friend and we go and visit him and take him eggs from our chickens. It is good to be able to look after people like that.'
Chris Ley, one of the village hall trustees, said: 'If you look around the village, you can see the history of what we've lost. There's the old White Horse house, the old Post Office house – all the facilities which are no longer here.
'It has become a sad fact that when we talk about our amenities we are talking about a phone box and a bench.
'So it is great to know we have this facility now which is alive, and it is much better to have a hall used for something where people can meet. That is very important – especially in a small community.'
The village's White Horse pub, on The Street, closed in the late 1960s and is now a house occupied by Sue and Bob Lomax, who moved in last October.
Mrs Lomax, who works as a history tutor for the Workers' Educational Association in other village halls around the region, said it was important to find new uses for community buildings.
'As a pub, this hall is an introduction to the village and the local society,' she said. 'We have got to know a lot of people very quickly here as a result, and we have settled in much quicker than we would normally have done.'
Nigel Williams, who lives a stone's throw from the 'pub' and runs a furniture restoration business, said: 'I would not have met anybody in the village without Paul's bar opening.
'And I have had several leads for work which I would not have had without coming down here. This is now the hub of the community – the only hub of the community.'
Mr Rogers, 35, who lives on Dereham Road in Briningham with his wife Beth, said he was keen to hear from other villages who wanted to take advantage of his idea during weekdays, providing they had a suitable venue.
He can be contacted on email@example.com.