PROJECT: Ivy House community pub, Nunhead, London
ORGANISATIONS INVOLVED: Ivy House Community Pub Ltd, English Heritage, Peckham Society, London Borough of Southwark, Locality, Plunkett Foundation, Architectural Heritage Fund, Social Investment Business Group
In April 2012, prospects for The Ivy House in Nunhead looked bleak. Owner Enterprise Inns had given the popular tenants a week's notice and developers were hovering. But these events prompted an 18-month campaign culminating in the pub's reopening as a community-run venture.
The Ivy House had been rebuilt by Truman's brewery in the 1930s as an "improved public house", providing entertainment and a family-friendly atmosphere. Its performance area was on the 1970s pub rock circuit, hosting gigs by such luminaries as Elvis Costello and Ian Dury. But years of underinvestment had left the property in poor condition.
In the week before the pub was boarded up, a group of regulars formed a steering group to look at options for reinstating the use. Members Tessa Blunden, Emma Dresner, Hugo Simms, Stuart Taylor and Howard Peacock had experience and expertise ranging from planning, conservation, law and fund management to web design and sound engineering.
Their first step was to secure the 1930s interior. "Our concern was that the owner would gut it over the weekend," says Blunden, a litigation lawyer at City firm Travers Smith. The Campaign for Real Ale had already applied to have the pub listed and the group enlisted local councillors and MP Harriet Harman in pressing for a decision. English Heritage confirmed the grade II listing just two days before closure.
The group then formed a limited company, Ivy House Community Pub Ltd, to draw up a rescue package that would attract a commercial operator. That approach changed last September when Enterprise sold the site to a north London developer, who then put it back on the market with residential conversion plans.
On the community pub company's behalf, local amenity group the Peckham Society submitted an asset of community value (ACV) nomination to the London Borough of Southwark under the Localism Act 2011's community right to bid provisions, which had just come into force. "No-one in London had used the procedure before," says Blunden.
The council swiftly endorsed the ACV designation, forcing the owner to withdraw the site from auction. "We needed a decision quickly and we congratulate the local authority," says Taylor, a qualified town planner who works as a historic buildings adviser for amenity society the Georgian Group. "It put the brakes on redevelopment and galvanised us to get on with the next stages as fast as possible."
The private company then converted to a community interest company, allowing it to register its intention to exercise the community right to bid. This ushered in a six-month moratorium on any further sale while the team put a funding package together.
Community network Locality put it in touch with potential sources, while the Plunkett Foundation helped with business planning. Taylor and Blunden also pay tribute to the unpaid support and advice given by colleagues and contacts, including building surveyors, valuers, architects, accountants and pub managers.
Last December, the group was awarded a £550,000 loan, including £50,000 in working capital, by the Architectural Heritage Fund. A month later, a £450,000 grant was approved by the Social Investment Business Group, which administers a government fund supporting ACV rescue projects.
After some tense last-minute negotiations, the community pub company purchased The Ivy House for £810,000 in March, in line with its advisers' valuation. Its conversion to a community benefit society allowed it to launch a community share issue, bringing in £142,000 to help with running costs and future improvement. Following repairs and refurbishment, the pub reopened in August.
The project has secured national recognition, winning an English Heritage Angel Award last month. But for Blunden, the reward has been the local community's "fantastic" response. "It has been a very difficult process. But it has been really heartening to see how much people care about having a really good local pub," she concludes.
Dale Ingram, Historic environment and planning consultant,ConservationWorks
How important is it for councils to react to ACV requests quickly?
A: Southwark acted swiftly in the face of an immediate perceived threat, and its sprightliness in this regard is an example to other local authorities. Now that most authorities have carried out at least one ACV listing, we expect speed of determination to increase.
Q: How important a factor was the English Heritage listing?
A: Listed status clearly gave The Ivy House additional protection. It would have precluded demolition and greatly hampered conversion to flats. Loss of the pub use would have been grounds for refusal under paragraph 70 of the National Planning Policy Framework and local policy.
Q: How encouraging is this outcome for similar projects?
A: It is encouraging at a basic level. But its funding model is unlikely to be replicable across all community pubs, few of which are listed or even in conservation areas. Also, the model for communities running their own pubs is still relatively young. We have yet to see how well that works in giving long-term protection.
Q: What can other community organisations learn from this project?
A: Try to make sure you have useful professional expertise in areas such as planning, heritage, law and finance on your committee or board. Otherwise, be prepared to pay for informed advice. Be realistic about what you can achieve and think and behave like a commercial operation.