Our pub, The Ship Inn, was taken away from us in 2014 when Enterprise Inns, the owners, closed it. There had been a pub on the site since 1811, and all the landlords can be traced from the first census in 1841.
The oldest part is Victorian, and the facade was extensively re-designed in the 1920s. There is no other pub for a mile in either direction.
It is located on Aldwick Street, 150 yards from the English Channel. There is a small parade of shops opposite including a news agents and small convenience shop, and just up the road is The Pound or Aldwick Green, a grass and woodland area looked after by the local residents.
Shortly before the pub was closed, the Friends of the Ship Inn was formed in a bid to protect the pub. We successfully got it registered as an Asset of Community Value with Arun District Council. That stopped the owners from selling it without asking the Friends first if we wanted to bid, and if we did they had to give us six months to raise the money.
Instead, Enterprise Inns decided to sell a 15 year lease to Morrisons supermarkets for £82,500 a year so they could open a convenience store. In the face of immense local anger and opposition, Morrisons ripped out the insides of the pub, including the staircase to the landlord‘s flat above, and extinguished all traces of The Ship Inn. Externally, they took down the pub‘s swinging sign and all the other insignia on the walls.
Then, Morrisons went to work on the building‘s structure. They applied for planning permission to knock down the east gable wall and build an extension. The Friends and hundreds of residents opposed the planning application. We raised a petition of more than 2,500 names and presented it to Arun DC. All to no avail.
Morrisons opened their store in 2015 – and then closed it in 2016. It had been poorly patronised and local sentiment was hostile. The Ship Inn site was one of many disastrous decisions Morrisons made in the convenience store sector, and they decided to get out of it entirely, and closed their doors.
The Friends approached Enterprise Inns to see if they would sell, and at what price. At a meeting they told us the site was worth £1.2 million, based on the rental from Morrisons. It was an absurd amount for a suburban village site location.
Even with a possible payment to us from Morrisons to be released from their lease, we couldn‘t afford it. So, Morrisons sub-leased to a new chain called My Local. They moved in and months later moved out. Even fewer customers used it.
The site remained empty for more than two years. Then, in March this year the EI group, as Enterprise was now called, sold most of their properties, including the Ship Inn site, to an American hedge fund. They, in turn, sold it on in June to a Scottish company called Surplus Property Investments Ltd.
The Friends approached them, met their agent, and they said they were willing to sell. This time, there was no outrageous Morrisons lease to distort the value.
We commissioned two market valuation appraisals. The professional surveyor with specific experience in the pub industry valued the closed, non-trading pub site at £365,000. But the market value as a closed retail outlet is £450,000.
The Friends decided they needed professional help to raise the money and reinstate the pub. We joined The Plunkett Foundation, a 100 year-old charity, which helps community businesses with advice, loans and grants. It has steered 85 new community pubs into existence, and all of them are thriving.
We needed a company structure to make a credible bid and chose a Community Business Society registered with the Financial Conduct Authority. The rules mean raising money by way of a share issue to everyone in Aldwick and beyond. A person who buys a share becomes part owner of the Ship Inn, and has a vote in how it is run.
In September, the Friends held a public meeting at Mosse Hall, St Richard‘s Church where we announced our plans. It was packed out with more than 200 people. All wanted to see The Ship Inn returned. The Friends‘ membership swelled with new people joining.
We set up a new Steering Committee to prepare for the Share Issue, publish it, and raise funds. In November we called another public meeting to give the community the details of the offer and what we needed from them. And that is £500,000. A tall order, but it can be done.
And after that meeting, where we introduced a beer mat pledge, we had pledges of more than £100,000. We followed that up and confirmed £91,000 from almost 90 people who confirmed they wanted to buy shares even before the launch goes live.
Meanwhile, the owners, SPI, while still talking to us, have also been negotiating with One Stop Stores, a wholly owned subsidiary of Tesco, to lease the building as yet another unwanted convenience store.
But if we can raise the money we can stop that and get the Ship Inn back to where it belongs – in the heart of our community.