The Blue Bell has been our local pub in the past, attracting custom from Cocking, surrounding villages and more widely from passing trade, with a deserved reputation for well-priced good food. The pub has now been closed since October 2017 and is owned by local developers Wand Estates. The village now lacks an effective community hub, accessible to all ages throughout the day and every day of the week. The well-located Blue Bell with on-site parking availability should answer this need, and, critically, help to ensure that Cocking remains a thriving and vibrant community with a sense of place in the years to come.
Following an unsuccessful planning application to convert the Blue Bell into two houses, a community group concerned that the heart of our village would be lost was formed and they have negotiated the purchase of the pub. Agreement has been reached for the purchase, including an overhaul of the building to bring it up to a basically sound standard, allowing alterations and upgrading of the interior to take place to make it suitable for operation as a community hub.
In December 2018, 230 survey questionnaires were distributed in the Parish. 67 of the parish households (30%) completed the survey, with 87% of the respondents considering a village shop and post office was ‘very important’. Similarly, the percentage of people thinking that the pub is very important or important was 75%. 94% of the respondents expected to use the proposed shop and post office (at least weekly). The results of the survey gave a clear mandate to progress plans to develop a hub for the community. Many suggestions were made for the type of facilities desired and these have been incorporated into the proposal.
Community hubs are a resilient form of business. Their success rate is 100% compared to the average small business success of 46%. This is because support for a venture in which there is an economic and social interest is higher. As member-owned organisations, community shops listen better and respond faster to the needs of their members and the wider community.
The Management Committee of BBCHL has consulted widely with other community hubs and has received support and guidance through its membership of the Plunkett Foundation. The vision is fully supported by the South Downs National Park Authority.
There is a further group of people with a wide range of valuable skills and expertise who said they would be prepared to offer professional or other relevant advice or support to the project.