‘We did it!’ Shouldham residents celebrate reaching target to save their pub - with a little help from Stephen Fry

Villagers and John McGourty, chairman of the Save Our King’s Arms (SOKA) campaign, outside the King's Arms at Shouldham.

Villagers and John McGourty, chairman of the Save Our King's Arms (SOKA) campaign, outside the King's Arms at Shouldham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

Victorious villagers behind an EDP-backed campaign to buy their last remaining pub are today celebrating after they reached their target of selling £150,000 of shares in the venue.

John McGourty, chairman of the Save Our King�s Arms (SOKA) campaign outside the King's Arms at Shoul

John McGourty, chairman of the Save Our King�s Arms (SOKA) campaign outside the King's Arms at Shouldham with Alan Austin and Abbie Panks. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

Organisers of the Shouldham Save Our King's Arms (SOKA) are now one step closer to getting their hands on the beer pumps of the 17th-century pub after a supportive Tweet from celebrity Stephen Fry prompted a last-minute rush of share-buying, which took them over the finishing line.

The King's Arms at Shouldham. Picture: Ian Burt

The King's Arms at Shouldham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

Residents announced the news that they had reached the £150,000 milestone on Twitter with the words: 'We did it!'

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SOKA has been selling stakes in the pub overlooking Shouldham's picturesque village green to help raise the money needed to buy and reopen it as a community pub owned and run by local people.

The overwhelming response from across West Norfolk and beyond means that if SOKA's application for a matched-funding grant from the Social Investment Business (SIB) is successful, it will have enough money to buy and refurbish the venue.

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It raises the tantalising prospect that, if the grant application is successful, the villagers could own the pub within four or five weeks - although organisers stress there is still a long way and that they are taking nothing for granted.

The SIB has already visited Shouldham to assess its grant application, with SOKA secretary Phil Harriss saying: 'Initial feedback from SIB has been extremely positive.' It is due to make its decision over the next month or so.

SOKA secretary Phil Harriss said the campaign's success in reaching the £150,000 share sale target 'will go down really well with the people who are making the decision about the grant'.

He added: 'They want as many people as possible to get involved. The whole community is behind us, which is what they want to see.'

Mr Harriss admitted that when the villagers set out on their campaign after The King's Arms closed last year, they did not know just how strong the response would be.

'It has been fantastic and just really heartening,' he said. 'When we started we said that we have just got to do something, because we won't be able to live with ourselves if we let our final pub go.'

Shouldham once boasted six pubs but, over the years, they have all closed.

The King's Arms was the last one left and for many long-term residents had been a place where they had made life-long friends and, in some cases, even future wives and husbands.

However it closed last year when its tenants failed to keep up with rent payments, prompting SOKA organisers to say: 'There is a feeling we've got to do it – not just for ourselves but future generations too.'

SOKA chairman John McGourty said the aim was to 'put the King's Arms at the heart of village life and make a contribution to the whole fabric of the community'.

The majority of shares, Mr Harriss said, have been bought by people in Shouldham and the surrounding area.

However he added: 'We also have investors from across Norfolk, from Shouldham 'exiles' across the world and from kind-hearted folk who have heard about our campaign on the internet.'

Even people living in Italy, Hong Kong, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have claimed a share in the venture.

The EDP has also helped out, with editor Nigel Pickover hosting a fund-raising quiz at Colts Hall Barn.

Mr Harriss said: 'Those of us who met the SIB grants assessor were immensely proud of our village - and the support our campaign has managed to attract from far and wide.'

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