Residents in Pembrokeshire are urging people to buy a ‘piece of history’ to safeguard a centuries-old pub and create a much-needed community-wide social resource.
For 250 years the White Hart Inn has been at the centre of life in the village of St Dogmaels – providing refreshment and rest to royalty and residents alike.
Now the White Hart’s future is uncertain, as the premises are for sale. Despite having been on the market since 2016, a buyer has yet to be found, and the pub’s current owners called time on the historic watering hole on May 5th.
But, determined not to lose a pivotal part of the village, locals formed the White Hart Community Inn project and have set about raising the £270,000 needed to buy the freehold of the pub and run it as a community.
With the help of the Community Shares Wales project, which is delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre and funded by the National Lottery Community fund, the group launched a share offer in March of this year.
Each share costs £200, and people may purchase between one and 100 shares. To date, the scheme has raised more than £70,000, and the group hope to achieve the full amount by the autumn.
“The White Hart is so important to the community,”
explains the project’s chair, Jo Pitt.
“There is also a lot of history attached to the pub, Admiral Lord Nelson is rumoured to have visited St Dogmaels, and more recently their royal highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall stopped at the pub during a tour of the village.”
Purchasing a share in the ancient pub – which celebrates its 250th anniversary on May 17th – is more than fundraising; it is an opportunity to “buy a piece of history.”
“You have to be over 16 to buy a share, but a guardian may buy them. Lots of parents in the village are buying them for their children as presents.”
With increasing awareness of well-being and mental health in rural communities, having somewhere local to meet and socialise is essential, a fact that plays an integral part in the community’s drive to buy the pub.
“It is not about the alcohol; it is about the people and the social aspect,”
says fellow group member Victoria Goddard.
“In a rural community you need somewhere to socialise and to glue the community together.”
“We’ve seen a reduction in services and transport in rural areas, and there are not the same opportunities to socialise as in towns and cities. So, we are hoping to be able to extend the White Hart’s provision to make it a hub of activity for different reasons throughout the day and to complement other activities taking place in St Dogmaels.”
The village, which is home to the 12th century St Dogmaels Abbey, a popular weekly award-winning producers’ market, and the nearby beautiful Poppit Sands beach, attracts visitors from around the world. Having a thriving local pub adds to the appeal for tourists looking to experience a flavour of Welsh life and gain a sense of place.
The community’s plans have already gained interest from abroad. Says Jo,
“We hope that former village residents or people with memories of visiting St Dogmaels will also help us achieve our goal.”
Carly McCreesh, Community Shares Wales Project Manager at the Wales Co-operative Centre, said:
“The local pub is the heart and soul of many communities across the country, but sadly Wales is currently losing one pub per week. A community share scheme can empower local people to save the places that matter to them, or help owners leave their legacy in safe hands.
“There are over seventy successful community-owned pubs across the UK, and we are currently running live share offers with a number of groups in Wales to help increase that number, including Menter y Plu in Llanystumdwy.
By investing in the services and facilities that matter to them, and by having a say in the way they are run, communities gain a sense of ownership and grow stronger as they work together to change their future.”
Additional support for the community has also been provided by Planed and the Plunkett Foundation, says Jo.
“Since we started on this venture we have had tremendous support from a number of organisations, including the Wales Co-operative Centre, Planed and the Plunkett Foundation.
“Their help and advice have enabled us to take the necessary steps towards realising our ambition of buying and running the White Hart Inn as a community.”