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Funded by Power to Change and Architectural Heritage Fund. In partnership with Locality

The heart of a community, saved by the community

Case study

24th May 2022
Locals campaigning to save the Lowther Arms

Pulling together, local people from a Cumbrian parish raised the funds to keep their local pub going – and preserve a cherished focal point for their community.

A traditional country pub at the heart of Mawbray village in Cumbria, the Lowther Arms has been standing for centuries. “The earliest record of it is from 1847, but it could go back even further,” says local resident Vivienne Coleman.

With only around 50 houses in the village and 185 in the whole parish, the pub is a focal point for local people in a sparsely populated rural area. It’s a part of the country where family and community ties are strong, as are ties to the pub.

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The Lowther Arms is part of everybody’s soul. It’s part of the culture, the heritage of the area. Because it has such a strong links to family and community, people connect memories to it, too.
– Vivienne Coleman, Lowther Arms

When a previous long-time landlady died in 2004, the pub subsequently changed hands a couple of times. In 2019, a planning application was submitted to change the use to a dwelling, much to the dissatisfaction of the forthright local population. So a meeting was held to hear local views and a plan was hatched to make the Lower Arms community owned – and give the locals exactly what they wanted.

“In 2005, we first attempted a community buy-out and the project was nicknamed the ‘Mawbray Moon Shot,’ as most people thought buying the pub was about as likely as getting to the moon! As it happened, the pub was bought by a private buyer and the community project was shelved,” Vivienne recalls.

“When the pub came onto the market again, myself and my husband Chris were asked to help, as we are both community-minded and we thought buying the pub was achievable because we’d been to other community pubs and knew it was a possibility.”

People holding banner outside Lowther Arms

“From the start, we all vowed to keep things transparent and open, so that everyone knew what was happening. We held open meetings and conducted a survey, asking people what kind of pub they wanted. And it caught their imagination, because they wanted to save their pub, realising that a piece of history would be lost if it closed permanently.”

With help from development grants, fundraising drives and an engaging marketing campaign, the Lower Arms community share offer was a huge success. It raised £276,000 in investment from 320 shareholder members, as well as match funding from the Community Shares Booster Fund.

But the local population didn’t just buy shares in the Lowther Arms, they also helped refurbish it. “Although we’re not blessed with retired accountants or bank managers, we’ve got many skilled people locally and just about every trade under the sun,” Vivienne says.

“A builder, architect, joiner, engineers, a plumber – in six weeks the pub was transformed. We engaged an interior designer and then a local upholsterer refurbished the seating.” 

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A lot of dedicated people have given an awful lot to the project because community spirit is so strong.
– Vivienne Coleman

The upstairs flat was also renovated to provide a home for tenants who run the pub, and the project is currently looking for people to fill that role. In the meantime, the Lowther Arms is run and staffed by local volunteers – and used by the community and visitors alike.

“The area is popular with tourists who come to enjoy the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the stunning coastline, and wildlife,” says Vivienne. “Cyclists, motorists and walkers are also attracted by the coast routes and Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site Buffer Zone and the pub relies on their trade to survive.

“We’re open four days a week. Local people make cakes and we sell coffee and cakes. Another lady in the village is a cook and does food four days a week. A young man in the village helps with the washing up and another young volunteer’s work counts towards his Duke of Edinburgh Award. The pub is able to offer work experience that otherwise wouldn’t be possible in this area.”

Cake of the Day at the Lowther Arms

For Vivienne and the other local residents, acquiring, owning and running the Lowther Arms is an achievement they’re proud of.

“It’s made a huge difference to the community. The sense of pride is visible. This is the community’s pub. It demonstrates anything is possible and serves as an inspiration for people.

“It’s quite a cut-off area and we’ve lost a lot of services. It needed something that could be a community hub, too. A place to meet, talk and eat. And people wanted it. They were overjoyed, they got their pub.

“Without Co-operatives UK – and the Booster Fund from their Community Shares Unit – this would not have been possible,” says Vivienne. “We are still selling shares and have raised £340,000 to date. Even now, I go all goose bumpy because I can’t believe we did it. It was just incredible. We are a co-operative and it’s given us our pub. We are so lucky.”

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