A village community is in a race against time to save its beloved 300-year-old pub.
Residents in Bethersden, near Ashford, are facing the challenge of raising £300,000 by Christmas in order to save and re-open The George pub.
The old freehouse – described by many as "the heart of the village" – closed during the pandemic, with the building put up for sale.
Fearing the historic building could be demolished or transformed, a group of like-minded residents came together to form The George Community, which has been campaigning to save the pub for around 18 months.
Robin Draper, chairman of the group, said the pub was an "absolutely vital asset" to the village.
"I have been in this village for 37 years and have met nearly all my friends through it," he explained.
"For two years we have not had it, and we really have noticed it. If there is no pub in the village, there is no heart in the village."
The campaign aims to raise enough to buy the pub, before renovating and repairing the inside in order to make it viable in the long term.
Community efforts were given a boost in October of last year, when it was granted a £250,000 share of the government's Community Ownership Fund.
The scheme pledges to match any funds raised towards the pub up to the £250,00 limit – meaning £300,000 raised would result in £550,000 in total.
It is seen as a vital part of the campaign to save the pub – however the offer only stands until the end of the year, meaning the group is facing a timeline of weeks to find the necessary cash before Christmas so that contracts can be exchanged on the sale.
A significant part of the fundraising efforts is a Community Share Offer, which involves shares of £500 being made available to anyone who wishes to purchase them.
A maximum purchase of 80 shares can be made per individual, with every shareholder receiving one vote in the community running of the pub, and earning interest which can be collected as a bar tab (to encourage continued custom at the pub) or or as cash.
Alternatively, a crowdfunder page has been put up for those who live further afield or who do not want to buy a share, while Co-operatives UK, which provided start-up grant funding last year, has also committed to make an investment of £25,000.
Mr Draper said: "We know this is a huge challenge – particularly at the present time – but this is our one and only shot to save the heart of our village and ensure it can play a full part in maintaining the community spirit and community care that Bethersden has always been known for."
George Community Secretary Alex Withington added: “We’ve been extremely heartened by the ongoing support we’ve experienced so far - not only as we worked towards securing an agreement to purchase the pub but at all the pop-up pub events that we’ve been organising every few months to keep The George front of mind with the community.
"If that support translates into share purchases then there’s no question that we can get there.
"Then our next goal will be completing necessary repairs and refurbishments so that we can re-open the pub – even if that’s in a very limited way to begin with – before St George’s Day 2023."