Published: 05:00, 14 May 2022
The future of a historic village pub saved from redevelopment through a community buy-out now hangs in the balance after the business failed.
The Chequer Inn at Ash was bought with the help of almost 300 shareholders after residents successfully fought a planning application to convert the 15th century building into a house.
The pub had closed in 2014 - 340 years after it first opened - but campaigners managed to have it registered as an 'asset of community value'.
A Save the Chequer Inn campaign was launched and almost £400,000 raised by the community, and through grants and loans to buy and refurbish the pub.
But a year after reopening it to a fanfare with new tenants in 2019, the pandemic hit, lockdown was imposed and the business suffered.
It did reopen once more but the subsequent Omicron variant caused numerous bookings to be cancelled, from which the business never recovered and the pub closed in January.
Now, trustees from the Chequer Inn Society are anxiously looking for new tenants but admit it is a "race against time" and the pub might have to be sold.
Chairman David Greaves says the trust cannot sustain the pub being closed for much longer.
"Unfortunately, the business could not survive the last Omicron variant, which hit trade hard with cancelled bookings just before Christmas, so it was knock-back after knock-back."
Supporters who invested in the pub paid £100 a share, and some bought thousands of pounds' worth.
"When we set out, we couldn't give any guarantees that their money would ever bear fruit in terms of dividends," said Mr Greaves.
"Now we haven't had rent for a number of months and are running on a bit of a shoestring.
"The bottom line is that we have to open sooner rather than later as we do have ongoing costs.
"I can't deny that it's more than a possibility we would have to put the pub on the market"
"We can't just stay closed indefinitely - there is a timeframe to this.
"I can't deny that it's more than a possibility we could have to put the pub up for sale."
But Mr Greaves is still hopeful they will find new tenants and says there has been some interest.
"I think the community would still support it and make it a viable business, despite it being a difficult industry," he says.
"We did have some good things going in the pub, and could do even more with a bit of investment in the garden, which many pubs have."
Anyone interested in taking on the tenancy should email email@example.com.