The George at Burpham
A victim of Pubco’s rampant pre-recession pub sweep, which saw so many local pubs fall foul to unsustainable rents and subsequent shut-downs, the George at Burpham – formerly The George and Dragon – a pub that serves three villages in West Sussex, seemed doomed until a few business-minded villagers decided to take matters into their own hands. Polly Humphris chatted to David King, chairman of the Burpham and Warningcamp Pub Company, to find out how a community stepped in and saved their village pub from ruin.
Can you tell me how you buying the pub with some of your fellow villagers came about?
I’ve lived in Warningcamp, a village near to the pub since 1987, so I’ve known the pub under various ownerships. Under the last landlords, the pub was actually owned by Pubco, a commercial property investment company who specialise in buying pubs. The landlords, who I’d become friends with over the years, got in touch with me and told me they had some problems – Pubco had pushed the rent sky high to a totally unsustainable level. But, then it transpired that post-recession, Pubco itself couldn’t meet its own debts and the pub was called in by the bank.
I put together an Enterprise Investment Scheme, which requires a minimum of four people, so myself, two fellow villagers – Simon Lay and Bill Tustin – together with the original couple negotiated a lower and fairer price with the bank and bought the pub.
Fantastic! What was the reaction from the locals like?
It very soon became clear that there was a lot of goodwill behind the pub; eight local families came forward and said they’d like to chip in as shareholders, so there are now 12 local families who all have a stake in the business. Together we are the Burpham and Warningcamp Pub Company.
What changes have you made to the pub?
We launched the pub under its fresh new look and name in July 2013, having completely gutted and redesigned it. It’s an altogether friendlier and more ‘pubby’ pub now with a much lighter and cleaner environment. It’s very much the sort of place that families feel welcome in and that anyone would be happy to visit on their own. The idea behind the name change was to announce to everyone that this was a new pub with a fresh start ahead of it. Our strapline is: “By the locals, for the locals, of the locals.” Everybody who works at the pub lives within a 5-mile radius.
What sort of food can people who visit expect?
We serve very good, hearty pub food. Our burger is exceptional and our local meat supplier is one of our shareholders, so we get the best meat you can get. You’ll find steak, fish and chips, and burgers on the menu, but we serve seasonal dishes too and our menu changes daily to reflect what’s available locally. We also make sure there’s a lot of choice for vegetarians. All of our suppliers, bar two, are local and our real ales are from Arundel, Lewes and Horsham, plus we get our wine advice from Richard Esling, who’s a Master of Wine in Arundel. He’s helped us put together a slightly eclectic and, crucially, affordable wine list.
Do you feel that you’re attracting people from further afield; is that something you’d like to do?
We’d love people from further afield to be aware that we exist. We extend our warm welcome to everyone – including muddy-booted walkers and their well-behaved dogs! We are getting people travelling to the pub from further afield for our renowned Sunday lunches, which is a great sign, and we were very quickly recognised by Sawday’s, who bestowed upon us a ‘Community Pub Award’. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far and would urge anyone to pop in for a pint!
The George at Burpham