We have taken advice but it appears that from the various legal options available to us, a Community Benefit Society (CBS) as described in section 2 may be the most appropriate. Villagers and other users would be invited to purchase shares, with one member one vote. The Society will be owned by the shareholders.
CBS is the option most favoured by the Plunkett Foundation and is we understand an attractive model for attracting grant funding since it is a well-established vehicle.
The project and later oversight of the operation will be undertaken by a management committee. The Management Committee will, as obliged under the constitution of the CBS all stand down at the first AGM when individuals may offer themselves for re-election. The committee will then be selected by members’ votes at the AGM each year. It shall provide an annual report of activities and finances to all members and annual return to the FCA. It will carry out monitoring of the tenant.
If the committee is successful in purchasing the pub, they will appoint a tenant and enter into a rental agreement with him/her to run the licensed business selling food and drink in our premises, and to pay an affordable but realistic rent to the Society. The rent will be set at a level that gives the tenant the opportunity and incentive to run a thriving pub business. We will use the rental income to maintain the building, repay any loans, meet other outgoings, facilitate the withdrawal by members of their shares from time to time, invest in additional social amenities, and if affordable pay interest to members. We firmly believe that the business will be profitable, but in the unlikely event that it is not, the Society will own a valuable asset – i.e. the building and land associated with it – which could be sold in order to return funds to investors. It should be noted that the current owners Wand Estates propose to include a ‘development uplift’ or ‘overage’ clause on the sale of the Blue Bell. This means that they would be entitled to some or all (dependent on what timescales apply at the time of sale) of any increase in value arising from a future change of use to residential usage.
The Society’s investment is in the building and land – the bricks and mortar – not the licensed business. This is a great opportunity to invest in a worthwhile community enterprise that will provide a valuable service to its members, users and future generations. The business plan will evolve as we move through the process and negotiate to acquire the pub and appoint a tenant, and as we achieve success with any grant applications.
One of the criteria for selection of a tenant will be their willingness to provide for community needs. However, our intention is not to micro-manage the tenants. They will be appointed to market and run the pub, which is their job not ours – although we will of course provide whatever support and assistance we can. The society will not be directly involved in the day-to-day management and operation of the pub – that responsibility and the associated business risk belongs to the tenant. We of course hope that many members of the community, whether members of the Society or not, will support the pub by offering voluntary help, joining or assisting the management committee, and most importantly by coming to eat, drink and enjoy the Blue Bell Hub!