Published: 06:00, 05 July 2019
Villagers are celebrating the re-opening of a historic pub which they stepped in to buy when plans were lodged to turn it into a house.
It is the culmination of a determined and passionate campaign to preserve The Chequer Inn at Ash - after more than 300 residents bought shares to help raise £400,000.
And on Monday, new hosts Craig and Jan Payten opened the newly-refurbished pub’s doors for business for the first time in almost five years.
But it has taken a huge effort by villagers to secure its future against the odds.
The planning application to turn the empty building into a house sparked outcry and a campaign in the village backed by local celebrity, actor Neil Stuke.
It led to the creation of The Chequer Inn Ash Society early in 2017 as a formal community benefit society to secure its future.
The group has now given a lease to the new hosts and members are confident they will have the experience and drive to make it a success.
Both have considerable knowledge of the trade.
"When we first walked through the door, it was a bit of a wreck to be honest because the place had been left to rack and ruin."- Jan Payten
Liverpudlian Jan, 54, previously ran the Duke William in Ickham and was a key member of the front of house team at the Red Lion at Hernhill.
Craig, 48, who is South African, is an experienced senior operator at both family-orientated and high-end restaurants and pub outlets.
Jan said: “When we first walked through the door, it was a bit of a wreck to be honest because the place had been left to rack and ruin.
"But it is such a gorgeous building that we both fell in love with it and knew what potential it had.
“We were also very impressed by the incredible passion and effort of the local community and the Chequer Inn Society to re-open this pub and it feels special to be part of that.”
The 14th century building has undergone significant renovation and refurbishment.
Craig is already developing a menu and pledges the quality of food and service will rival the best in east Kent.
The couple’s three daughters and son are also involved, while the business is also creating several more new jobs.
“We are confident the village will support the pub because so many residents have bought shares in the business and now have a vested interest in it,” added Craig.
The Chequer Inn closed in 2014 - 340 years after it first opened as a pub - and a planning application was lodged to convert the 17th century property into a house.
But campaigners fought to have the pub registered as an asset of community value.
Dover District Council and the building owner eventually abandoned the change of use plan and put it up for sale for £340,000.
By August 2017, a total of £400,000 had been raised from investors and through grants and loans to buy the property and pay for renovations.
In February 2018, a price was agreed with the owner of the building and in April the sale was completed to the Chequer Inn Ash Society.