Report of Meeting with Sam Hughes From the Royal Oak
Phil, Alan, Gary, Stave and myself met with Sam Hughes Chair of THE RUSHTON OAK COMMUNITY PUB LTD on Tuesday 15th March. They are a Co-operative Society for Community Benefit of about 150 members that have bought the Royal Oak, Rushton Spencer to “reverse its decline, prevent its closure and establish it as a focus for the local community. They opened in May 2015 and have employed a tenant to run the business on behalf of the Members”. The Members have elected a Management Committee to oversee the business on their behalf. Having saved the pub, renovated the building, and got it to be a properly working pub serving good food, we are looking to grow to have more community-based services available on the premises.
Rushton is a small community and in order for the pub to survive, it has to be a destination pub serving good food.
Sam explained that the number one issue for a successful Community Pub is the Landlord or tenant. The pub has to be a good enough proposition to attract the correct business person to run it. It is a rare thing that a pub can survive on a hard-core set of drinkers. Nowadays it requires a decent food offering. She also cautioned us to recognise that being a good Chef does not mean that this itself brings success indeed all to often a good chef is a poor businessperson.
Through circumstances and covid that had been supported by various local businesses including The Tickled Trout and Heaton House who had operated the pub for them but now they had their own tenant who was proving to be a great success.
Sam also stated that at the outset we should set out the terms of the lending to make it clear that shareholders do not run the pub.
Sam invited us to meet with the new Tennant and also to meet with the owner of the Tickled Trout so that we could hear of their experience of operating a pub of this nature. Another key point was that commercial chefs do not require large kitchens so if we were to replace a kitchen take some advice from a commercial chef first.
Whilst their pub had actually closed for a period they have not had to do extensive repair work and were able to purchase it directly from the Brewery. Thus they are able to offer it out at a reasonable rent to the tenant.
Overall the impression I got was that as long as the pub stayed open then the shareholders were happy. This was definitely a hands-off approach utilising a tenant which was different than the other two pubs we had visited where the committee was much more operational. There was even talk of an exit strategy!
However again this project clearly benefited from a capable enthusiastic leader. Sam and her committee offered their ongoing support especially as she was a Brownedger!