The Giant Goram is the only remaining pub in the whole of the Lawrence Weston area, despite there once being five. Locals are desperate to prevent it being sold for development and, instead, are campaigning to turn it into a community-owned pub.
Having been successful in their campaign to prevent the building going to auction, the community group has, last week, become a Community Benefit Society, meaning they now have the chance to offer people the option to buy shares in the proposed business and, hopefully, secure funding to buy the pub.
So, where did it all start? The Giant Goram was scheduled to be auctioned off for development with a guide price of £290,000 earlier this year, but a fierce campaign from Save The Giant Goram to win a ‘community right to bid’ halted the auction.
The pub has now been at the centre of a planning war since its initial closure in 2019 when Hawkfield Homes’ planned to replace the pub with seven new homes. Despite being rejected by Bristol City Council, the pub is still at jeopardy from developers three years later.
Often referred to as “the hub of the community”, to lose it would mean there would be very little left in the local vicinity for the people of Lawrence Weston. If successful in their campaign though, the pub, in Barrowmead Drive, could potentially be bought by Save The Giant Goram and run by the community as an ‘asset of community value’.
The asset of community value that has been granted buys the campaign team some time. It means that the developers can’t sell the building to anyone else until the end of July, which essentially means the team don’t have any competition, but time is running out.
Other similar community asset schemes across Bristol include the Redfield Cinema campaign, the Knowle Jubilee Pool campaign and, as it happens, many other jeopardised pub campaigns.
As we sit and chat to campaigners from the Bristol Pubs Group, as well as CAMRA Bristol and campaigners from both save the Merchant’s Arms in Eastville and the Rhubarb Tavern in Barton Hill, it’s clear that this is a problem that stretches out across the whole of Bristol.
“It’s better if we get together and we stand up for all the communities across Bristol that are losing their resources, but it’s also helpful that you can see the similarities,” explains Jo Sergeant, former councillor for Avonmouth and Lawrence Weston. “It will help other campaigns if you can see what’s happened previously.”
Despite strong support from individual councillors working with the community groups, Bristol City Council’s planning department are making progress difficult. A lot of the issues are, unfortunately, tied in with the planning system.
“In a face to face meeting last month, they promised to have a review on The Giant Goram but we’ve heard nothing since. It affects all the pubs in the same position across Bristol,” explains Chris Gibson, who works with CAMRA Bristol Pubs Group, and has worked with Save The Giant Goram and Save The Merchant Arms.
“We find ourselves having to fight, not just developers, but our own city council, too. In a nutshell, there is a planning policy that relates specifially to public houses. To summarise, it says that a change of use will only be granted if one of two conditions are satisfied. You have to demonstrate that there is an adequate range of reasonable pubs of a diverse nature that will meet the needs of the immediate community.
“Or, you have to submit a detailed assessment to show that a pub is not viable, which should be sent for independent verification at the applicant’s expense.”
Mr Gibson goes on to say that the applications are a year or more overdue, in addition to the normal allocated time. He stresses that this really hampers the work and determination of community groups that are trying to fight their corner and working to a deadline to raise community funds.
Progress and plans
Since last week, though, on May 7, the Save The Giant Goram group is a Community Benefit Society. The Lawrence Weston Community Pub CBS Limited is the new official name and it will be launching their first Community Share Offer in a few weeks time.
What this essentially means is that people are able to buy shares, become part of the management board and have a say in how the pub is run. Before that, however, the campaign team have to produce a business plan, which will allow them to raise the money they need to buy and refurbish the pub.
They are asking that anyone who would like to get involved, even by just providing some stories about how having a local pub has helped improve their lives, does so by getting in touch via their social media pages.
So, how does it work attempting to buy the premises as a community pub, and how do the Lawrence Weston Community Pub CBS Limited plan on making it profitable?
“In terms of buying the premises, hopefully, in a months time, we will have a prospectus out for people to review,” says Ms Sergeant. “The community share offer is not to raise the whole money, because we know local people will not be able to raise what we need, but to get people involved and then to allow us to set up crowdfunding, make applications for grant funding and philanthropic donations.”
In terms of making it profitable, the group have a lot of different ideas and are working on putting together a concise and well-formed business plan as we speak.
“It’s going to be a community pub so it combines three purposes,” says Ms Sergeant. “One is a community public house with a decent food offer and a child-friendly place, one is a community centre where anyone can come and run an activity and the third purpose is a cafe for those who don’t drink.
“There are also opportunities for pop-up restaurants, too, private hire and other events to support the community with services that support community wellbeing. This would allow us access to other funding, too.”
She goes on to say that it will be a place for traditional beer drinkers, but also a place that has the potential to be a dementia cafe, a training site, and a co-working space. Essentially, there plan is that it could do so many different things that would add an incredible amount of value to the community.
One thing is clear - the Giant Goram pub has the ability to sit at the very heart of a community that need it the most. From initiatives to aid mental health and wellbeing, to plans to support all aspects of the community from ale drinkers to mother and toddler groups, there will be something for everyone in Lawrence Weston here if saved.
What happens next? “For some community pubs, in wealthier areas, it’s easier to raise the money,” says Ms Sergeant.
“But one of the benefits of the community share offer is it increases people’s sense of mandate for involvement. In terms of hard cash, though, there are various funds such as Government Community Ownership Fund, that we can now apply for.
“The more money we can raise, the more likely we will get the finance because it will seem a more viable investment opportunity.”