Northumberland village pub’s future on the agenda

The Black Bull at Lowick
The Black Bull at Lowick

A public meeting is being held in Lowick to gauge interest in raising funds for a community takeover of the Black Bull Inn.

The pub is currently closed and facing an uncertain future after a difficult 12 months during which its landlord resigned.

It prompted the formation of a local charity which has been fighting to save it.

Now, members of the Save the Black Bull Inn campaign have organised their first community meeting, which is open to all interested parties, tomorrow (Friday, April 17), at 7.30pm in the Lowick Village Hall.

Diane Chisholm, one of the campaign group, explained: “The purpose of the meeting will be to inform the village and other interested parties of the latest developments, gauge interest and then form a steering committee in order to create a business plan and prepare a bid to purchase the pub.

“There will also be talks by Mark Dodds of People’s Pubs and Tom Johnson of Glendale Gateway Trust, which we hope will inspire us and provide an insight into how the needed funding can be raised.

“There will also be an opportunity for the community to discuss funding and other ideas related to this issue.”

Previous plans to demolish the pub to make way for a quartet of four-bedroom homes under previous owner R and L Properties did not go ahead, but its future again appeared in doubt in November when landlord Leslie Bell resigned and the pub was closed.

A community campaign had saved the pub from closure in February last year under its previous owner.

Hawthorn Leisure Acquisitions Ltd, which took over in April 2014, then challenged its listing as an ‘asset of community value’, arguing the listing of the pub was not valid as it is actually a four-bedroom hotel and exempt from the scheme.

However, Northumberland County Council put forward evidence that pub quizzes are held there, as are an over-60s club and fundraising events held by a local football team.

In February, a judge confirmed its status as an asset of community value.

Such a status affords the pub better protection from development, said Judge Nicholas Warren, president of the General Regulatory Chamber of the First-Tier Tribunal.

Speaking at the time, he said: “A community interest group then has six weeks in which to ask to be treated as a potential bidder. If it does so, the sale cannot take place for six months. The theory is that this period, known as ‘the moratorium’, will allow the community group to come up with an alternative proposal.

“Additionally, members of the community use it as their ‘local’, a use which encourages friendships, conversation and the mixing of classes and generations,” said the judge.

He continued: “There is no sharp dividing line between a pub and a hotel.

“Indeed, it used to be conventional for a public house to proclaim itself to be a hotel, however unlikely the prospect of a guest being attracted to stay overnight.

“The activities carried on there and the small number of guest bedrooms in relation to its size give me the impression that, in the ordinary use of language, people would not describe it as a hotel.”

He said the Black Bull is primarily a pub, not hotel, and is ‘thriving’, justifying its listing as an asset of community value.

There has been a pub on the site since the 1700s.