Rural environments and exceptional people make for successful community pubs
Power to Change’s More than a Pub programme funds community ownership of pubs in England and supports them to grow the range of services they offer to the community.
For many people in England, pubs are a core part of their community. This evaluation project allowed us to look at this unique part of what can help a place to flourish.
Renaisi and Power to Change have a long-standing working relationship, shared values and shared investment in improving communities.
The evaluation project and methodologies used
Renaisi was commissioned in October 2016 to lead the evaluation of the More Than a Pub programme. The purpose of the evaluation was to:
- Develop understanding of the impact of community-owned pubs, and how the community ownership model drives that impact.
- Assess how effective the More Than a Pub programme has been in achieving its aims and supporting the community-owned pub sector.
- Our evaluation was developmental, designed to respond to the developing needs and interests of both the More Than a Pub programme and Power to Change more generally, and to provide timely insight to inform the ongoing development of the programme.
We use a mixed methods approach, which included quantitative data analysis (application forms, Advisor reports and public datasets such as the Indices of Multiple Deprivation) in combination with qualitative analysis (interviews with employees, trustees, members, customers and visitors of 12 community-owned pubs).
In addition, some work on comparison was undertaken by our partners at Social Enterprise UK, and is reported separately [link to report].
What we learnt in phase 1
Phase one of the More than a Pub programme provided lots of learning for Plunkett, Power to Change and the community pub sector.
Learning 1: Engagement with the More than a Pub programme was dependent on Place and People
The relevance of place
A typical pub engaging with the More than a Pub programme was:
- In an area of low overall deprivation but with limited access to local services
- With average levels of unemployment
- Located near a couple of other pubs
However, with few exceptions, the programme has not supported urban pubs in areas of high deprivation, high unemployment and scarcity of local services, for example isolated urban estates. This is because communities in these areas have not engaged with the programme at all, rather than because they were less likely to progress.
The importance of people
In our visits, and anecdotally, we found that the typical composition of the Steering Group organising the process of purchasing the pub is highly skilled professionals, often retired. This demography reflects the dominant demography of the types of places that are predominantly represented in the programme. However, it also reflects the difficulty and challenge involved in negotiating the process of purchasing a community-owned pub, which almost always requires resources including specialist skills, (the promise of) financial investment, and a significant investment of time.
Not having the “perfect combination” of resources doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to open a community-owned pub. While rare, a minority of pubs supported by the programme were able to successfully open without the “perfect combination of resources”. These were usually led by a small number of exceptional individuals with a determination to succeed despite the odds being against them.
Learning 2: Opening, and running, a community-owned pub isn’t easy
Buying, and opening, a community-owned pub takes a long time.
The process of buying and opening a community-owned pub was long winded, and included galvanising the community, raising the funds and convincing the owner to sell to the community. Each stage created different challenges, and the particular situation of each pub was very different.
Opening a pub, and running a pub, are very different.
The skillset required to buy, and open a community pub, is very different to the one needed to run it. Many pubs that had successfully opened went on to have challenges around running a pub as a business, dealing with staffing challenges and changes to the committee.
Learning 3: Community-owned pubs have a wide range of impacts and are clearly valued by people in the community, but long-term social impacts are still to be determined.
Community-owned pubs can be more impactful where they create opportunities for people who would otherwise be excluded, for example by offering employment to people who would otherwise struggle to access the jobs market, and providing social activities for people who would otherwise be isolated.
Much remains to be understood about the impact of community-owned pubs over time: most community-owned pubs supported by the programme are at a very early stage of development, and therefore it is difficult to determine their longer-term impact on communities at this stage.
There is also much to learn about how community-owned pubs develop as businesses, and whether they are able to remain financially sustainable where other forms of ownership have failed. These types of questions can only be addressed in the years after this phase of the programme has come to an end.
What will change in phase 2 because of the learning?
Renaisi has been recommissioned by Power to Change to evaluate the next phase of the More than a Pub programme.
Funded by Power to Change and delivered by Plunkett Foundation, the second round of the programme will build upon the learning and success of the first phase. Adaptations include:
- Helping urban deprived areas realise they have the capability to open a community-owned pub through case studies and external communications.
- Additional support for pubs in urban deprived areas, including business support and top-up bursaries.
- Specialist business support for at risk community pubs, that are open and trading but are experiencing difficulties.
- Providing advisor support to help community pubs think more creatively about what a pub can be, and what social impact it can have on its community
We look forward to assessing the impact of the changes to the programme on community-owned pubs and the wider sustainability of the community pub market.