Renaisi led the evaluation of the More than a Pub programme (MTAP), funded by Power to Change and delivered by the Plunkett Foundation. Here Waseem Meghjee, Junior Research and Evaluation Consultant, shares the findings of the second phase of the evaluation.   

Power to Change’s More than a Pub programme supported local communities in England to take ownership of pubs and grow a range of community-centred activities for five years.

In the first phase of the programme (2016-19), our evaluation generated insight into what makes community pubs successful and some of the challenges that community pubs face in their journey. The skillset and dynamics of the people and the setting of the pub influenced the success, challenges included the long process of buying and opening community-owned pubs.

Phase 2 of the evaluation and methodologies used

Our evaluation of phase 2 of the programme sought to build on the learning from phase 1, with a specific focus on:

  • developing understanding of the impact of community-owned pubs;
  • assessing how effective the MTAP programme has been in achieving its aims and supporting the community-owned pub sector;
  • learning how to best support community-owned pubs to have a positive legacy.

We used a mixed-methods approach in this evaluation. We analysed data from monthly MTAP reports and data from Power to Change’s Community Pub Survey and conducted qualitative interviews with a wide range of people, such as employees, trustees, members, customers of community-owned pubs.

‘Renaisi’s evaluation of More than a Pub has shone a light on what’s really required for communities to take back control of their local. As a result of their invaluable insights, we’ve enhanced our understanding of what works well, and what could be improved, to support community-owned pubs pop up across the country. We also now have the best evidence to date of the social impact these pubs create, and how they transform their local areas for the better.’

Stephen Miller, Director of Impact and Learning at Power to Change.

What we learnt

Learning 1: MTAP has increased community pub ownership in England and had a positive impact on the long-term sustainability of community pubs.

In 2016, there were 58 community pubs in England. In 2021, there were 122 known community pubs actively trading in England, and MTAP supported 63 of them to come into community control.

MTAP supported community pubs in various ways; helping them find a suitable management model, providing access to a loan and grant, building networks of peers, providing advisor support and raising the public profiles of community pubs.

As a result, MTAP enabled community pubs to plan for a financially sustainable future, consider their community benefit and maintain community engagement in the longer term. All of these factors consequently lead to more income generation.

Learning 2: MTAP offered unique, vital support to the community pub sector.

MTAP offered the sector a unique and vital source of support, often being thought of as one of the only options for community groups looking to get advice and financial support in their journey towards ownership. In particular, the peer element of the programme proved to be essential, inspiring a sense of community and enabling a network of collective support. MTAP also raised the profile of community pubs, supporting community groups to promote their activities locally through local media campaigns.

Learning 3: Supporting community pub groups in areas in deprived and urban areas has been difficult.

Despite efforts to increase the success rate of all 20 community pub groups in areas categorised as deprived by the English Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), MTAP has not been able to bring any of these pubs into community ownership. While certain elements of the programme impacted the success rate of these groups, challenges were primarily driven by wider, structural issues such as limited community wealth, lack of professional skills and experiences and a lack of social capital.

This does not just apply to pubs. Renaisi’s research into community-asset ownership for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Left Behind Neighbourhoods found that more than half of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods have no community-owned assets. Other deprived areas and the rest of England have 1.6 and 2.2 times more community-owned assets per 100,000 population than LBNs respectively. The early draft of the report summarises barriers and enablers to community ownership and makes recommendations for action the APPG can take to improve asset ownership by community groups (including businesses), through policy, programmes and funding.

Learning 4: External factors influenced the journey of community groups looking to take ownership of a pub.

While MTAP has had an impact on the community pub sector, much of the success of groups on their journey towards ownership was dependent on external factors. The factors that proved to be barriers included prohibitive government policies or legislation, difficulties accessing financing and unsuccessful negotiations. Without wider systems to support its progress, the impact of a time and fund limited programme like MTAP is finite.

Learning 5: More can be done to build on MTAP to support the future of the community pub sector.

A lot has been gained through the MTAP programme including a strong partnership between the various stakeholders. Suggestions for maintaining what has been achieved include a membership or infrastructure body for the sector, or even the development of a new dedicated programme of support. The future of the sector needs to be considered in light of the new £150 million Community Ownership Fund, and potential threats to the sustainability of the sector such as the role of developers, a lack of legislation for community groups to challenge developers and the impact of Covid-19 on the hospitality sector.

Read the full evaluation report, or the executive summary, as well as the learning paper on the journey of community pubs.