"In my view, the ‘emotional’, ‘romantic’, ‘idealistic’ aspects are crucial. However, if they are not combined with pragmatic economic/commercial viability, they remain just that. If they are married to economic viability, the project can become so powerful that it is almost unstoppable."

 

Julian Ross, Chairman of The Old Crown Co-operativeJulian Ross, Chairman of The Old Crown Co-operativeJulian Ross is chairman of The Old Crown co-operative in Hesket Newmarket, believed to be Britain’s first co-operatively owned pub. In his ‘day job’ he works from home as a full-time freelance translator. He has lived in Cumbria for 11 years with his wife Tori, who first introduced him to the delights of The Old Crown. The Old Crown is a public house in the small village of Hesket Newmarket, situated just inside the northern edge of the Lake District National Park, nestling in the Caldbeck fells. It is the only public house in the village. When The Old Crown came on the market in 2002, a co-operative was formed under the  leadership of Julian Ross in order to prevent the pub from either closing or being sold to parties who might change its character. 125 customers of the pub eventually clubbed together to buy the pub, each chipping in £1500 to fund the purchase. The Co-operative was officially registered as a community industrial and provident society in March 2003, and the purchase was completed on 21 August 2003. The Old Crown is believed to be Britain’s first co-operatively owned pub. The pub is now a thriving, happy, lively place which is fulfilling its role as the heart of the village community, a place where regulars and visitors alike will find a warm welcome, good, simple food, a friendly smile and a superb range of real ales. 

 

Pub "Under New Ownership - Ours !"Pub "Under New Ownership - Ours !"

ECOCLUB.com:  Were the reasons behind the creation of Britain's first co-operatively owned pub mainly ideological, romantic or practical-economic?

 
Julian Ross: All three. In my view, the ‘emotional’, ‘romantic’, ‘idealistic’ aspects are crucial. However, if they are not combined with pragmatic economic/commercial viability, they remain just that. If they are married to economic viability, the project can become so powerful that it is almost unstoppable.
 
ECOCLUB.com: How important was outside financial assistance in accomplishing the cooperative takeover of the pub and contributing to its current economic success?

Julian Ross: Fairly marginal. We did receive some grant funding, for which we were very grateful, but the vast bulk of the funding was raised from the share issue.
 

The interior of The Old Crown pubThe interior of The Old Crown pub

ECOCLUB.com: How satisfied are you with the current level of pub and beer taxes in the UK, and do you feel community-owned & worker-run pubs and breweries, like yours, deserve a different, more favourable tax treatment or subsidies even?
 
Julian Ross: Taxes and duties impact very heavily on small pubs in particular. Not sure if community-owned pubs should receive preferential treatment – I am not a great fan of ‘positive discrimination’, and whatever governance model is chosen, pubs have to be able to survive in the real world. They just need a helping hand from government. Excessive taxes/duties are one aspect of that, but cut-price alcohol in supermarkets also has a major impact.

ECOCLUB.com: Are every-day and longer-term business decisions taken in a different way than in the average pub? And do all shareholders get an equal say, or does it depend on the number of shares they own? In terms of day-to-day management, is there a management hierarchy and a permanent allocation of roles (a paid staff) or do shareholders participate or rotate even?

Julian Ross:  We do not run the pub ourselves, but lease it to tenants who run the business. They pay us rent. This means they have the incentive to grow the business (because they keep the profits), but also carry the business risk. They also employ bar staff, restaurant staff, etc.The actual day-to-day running of the pub is the responsibility of the tenants. We as the co-operative (owners of the pub) are effectively a property company, who lease out the premises to tenants to run the pub for us, in accordance with the terms of the Lease, which is quite specific about what they can and cannot do. Any major decisions that have to be made by the co-operative, as the owners of the building, are discussed in a meeting with shareholders. We proceed on the basis of consensus and collective commitment.There are 148 shareholders. No one owns more (or less) than one share. Also, no one has more than one vote. Everyone has an equal say.
 
ECOCLUB.com: Has the cooperative considered expanding its operations by selling (or exporting) its real ales or by venturing into tourism, perhaps by operating guesthouses and organising a beer festival?

Julian Ross: There is a micro-brewery behind the pub, which is owned by a separate co-operative (though of course the two are closely linked). As the pub co-operative, we are single-object company and have no desire to take over the world! However, the success of The Old Crown does have a spin-off effect in the local community, boosting trade at local B&Bs, holiday cottages, village shop, etc. etc.

The Old Crown Pub exteriorThe Old Crown Pub exterior

 
ECOCLUB.com: In these times of economic crisis, do you see yourselves as a realistic, alternative model for rural communities? How easy would it be for others to replicate your success in other parts of the UK? Would you happily offer any sort of assistance or guidance to such 'competition' and is there interest from other communities?
 
Julian Ross: It is not an easy thing to do. Each project is different, and our model may not work everywhere. In the right circumstances, however, it can work very well. It is absolutely realistic – this is vital – and can in fact be more viable than other ownership models, because the owners have a vested interest in seeing it thrive and are therefore more inclined to use it. It has in fact been replicated. When we purchased The Old Crown, it was the only co-operatively owned pub in Britain. There are now approximately 20. I have personally given advice, addressed meetings, etc. on many occasions, and several of those initiatives have gone on to successfully buy and ‘save’ their pub.
 
ECOCLUB.com: Are you in contact with cooperative pubs and breweries in other countries?

Julian Ross: Not directly, though The Old Crown has received publicity in several other countries.
 
ECOCLUB.com: Do you ever wonder why there are so few cooperative pubs and breweries and indeed so few cooperative and worker-run leisure and tourism entreprises worldwide? There seems to be a belief or rather a myth that a high level of service can only be attained through corporate pressure and employee exploitation.
 
The village of Hesket NewmarketThe village of Hesket Newmarket
Julian Ross: It’s hard work. You need the right people to be in the right place at the time. Specifically, the project needs a leader with vision and determination. There is no financial reward, though on every other level it is the most rewarding thing I personally have ever done. I also think people just are not used to the idea. Once people realise that they are valued and that it isn’t all about the money (more about sustainability/resilience than about profit per se) they will often give the best of themselves without being pressured or exploited.
 
ECOCLUB.com: Finally, when is the best time of the year to visit Old Crown Pub and Hesket Newmarket?

Julian Ross: Any time is a good time! 
 
ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much.
 
For more details visit: http://www.theoldcrownpub.co.uk/
 

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