Community Saves the Duke!
excitement as keys to Duke of Marlborough handed to campaigners
When the doors of the Duke of Marlborough in Somersham, Suffolk, closed on Christmas Eve 2014, it seemed the pub would be lost forever. However, just over two years and much campaigning later, the keys have been handed over to the new owners. They are the community.
Over £300,000 was needed to purchase the oak-beamed free house. The previous owners had been looking for buyers for some time when they retired at the end of 2014. With none forthcoming, chances were that the pub would be de-licensed and sold for residential purposes.
Local doctor Sarah Caston, saddened by the prospect of losing the pub for future generations, called a village meeting and set up the Save the Duke campaign. “The Duke had been offering hospitality for well over 500 years. We just wanted that to continue. It’s a beautiful, rural, historic inn, treasured by the community - and with potential to offer something special to people from further afield. It was clearly worth fighting for!”
A committee of volunteers, headed initially by Sarah and later by James Batchelor-Wylam, has worked tirelessly towards the end goal – of re-opening the doors of the Duke of Marlborough.
“We raised the money, we negotiated the purchase and now we have the keys,” says James. “That’s a massive milestone. This really is a huge achievement, made possible by the fantastic people who invested in shares – 230 of them so far, and numbers still rising!
“It’s not only the shareholders we have to thank. It’s also the many organisations and individuals who have given us time, advice, grants and support in kind. Soon we’ll be celebrating with them - and offering the public recognition they deserve.
“In the meantime, we’ve got a lot of work to do to get the pub open. The place has been closed for 26 months. The cellar needs re-fitting, the rooms need a lick of paint and the outside needs some TLC.”
Just as important as the smartening up of the pub is the mission to find the right people to run it. The aim is to get an experienced management team to run the place professionally.
Save the Duke committee member Frances Brace, who works in the pub and beer industry says, “This is a fantastic opportunity for an ambitious management duo. It will appeal to those who want to take over a jewel in Suffolk’s crown, and turn it into a destination famed for its food and drink. The nearby major routes and easy access to key towns will help enormously in the process of building trade. There’s also the enormous benefit of 230 shareholders and a supportive community who have fought for over two years to get the place open again.
“We are looking for really great operating team and are keen to hear from anyone with passion and commitment whose vision matches ours and whose track record shows they can deliver. Suffolk is a wonderful place to live, the accommodation is high standard and the Duke of Marlborough’s potential is enormous.”