Thanks to a successful community share offer, the residents of a Kent village have made sure their friendly local continues to bring people together.
At the heart of Bethersden in Kent, The George pub has been the social centre of village life for several decades. “It’s always been part of everything’s that’s happening,” said local resident Alex Withington. “If ever there’s a village event, the George is involved somehow.
“It had a local pool team – and has supported Macmillan coffee mornings and other fundraising events. It’s where people gather after weddings and funerals. The George has always served good value food and drink. It’s the kind of place you just pop in to see people you know.”
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the pub shut down – and the owners decided to sell up and retire. Keen to save a crucial part of village life, Alex and a group of other Bethersden-ers rallied to find a way to keep The George going.
They initially held talks with a local businessman who wanted to raise money from private investors to buy the pub, with a focus on profit and dividends. But it soon became clear that a community enterprise was a more suitable model. As Alex explained:
“We weren’t coming at it from a for-profit perspective. We were looking to add back to the community something we’d lost. We wanted to do the right thing for our village and at the same time make it a viable business.
“A community benefit society (CBS) was the most appealing model. We knew it would give us the ability to get grants, as well as money from a community share offer. And unlike a limited company, where the profits go to the shareholders, with a CBS, the proceeds go back into the business and the community.”
So the group formed The George Community Limited, which received a grant from the Community Shares Booster fund to help develop a share offer. “This was really important because it accelerated our efforts. We’d been running pop-up events to raise money and they generally netted £600 a time.
“With the £5,500 grant from the Booster Fund our plans were brought forward by the best part of a year. It allowed us to properly and professionally build our share offer and attain the Community Shares Standard Mark – the guarantee of a quality offer.”
With the help of their professional prospectus, the George Community’s share offer raised £358,000 from 189 investors. They also received £25,000 match funding from the Community Shares Booster Fund.
“The Booster Fund investment was a massive help. Every single pound is important in a venture like this and £25,000 is around a quarter of our renovation budget. This means we’ve been able to go further to create the community space our village needs.”
The George also received £250,000 from the Community Ownership Fund, a government levelling up grant awarded to help save crucial community assets. “That was a game changer too,” said Alex. “We wouldn’t be here without all the funds we received and raised.”
With renovations finished in less than four months, The George re-opened on 26 May 2023. “We’re going to have a café that opens during the day too,” said Alex. “When we did a survey, a lot of people said they wanted somewhere during day to use as well.
“We’re also looking to have a petanque area and a community library in the pub. We’re just so happy to have helped restore The George to the heart of Bethersden for our community.”