IT’S all hands to the pump in a pretty North-East community where the locals are missing their village pub so much they’ve rolled out an ambitious plan to buy it.

The Vane Arms has been part of Long Newton, between Darlington and Stockton, since the 18th century but it has been closed since last August.

Now, the villagers have mounted a “Save The Vane” campaign and formed a steering group with a view to saving the building from developers and making it the first community-owned pub in the Tees Valley.

Having retired after 30 years as a firefighter, Nigel Dennison, one of the founder members of the steering group, is now focussing his attention on rescuing The Vane and giving it a long-term future.

“It’s like most things in life – you don’t fully appreciate them until they’re gone,” says Nigel. “The Vane was such an important community hub and, for some of the older people in the village, it was a lifeline. It’s been heartbreaking to see the impact the closure has had in terms of social interaction.”

The idea is for the villagers, and people of the wider Tees Valley, to become shareholders of the freehold pub, which comes with four bed and breakfast rooms and a beer garden looking out onto magnificent countryside.

They have until March 30 to register their bid and then a deadline of August 17 to add substance, with evidence of the necessary financial support.

In the meantime, invaluable advice has been gleaned by visiting the enterprising community campaigners who went down the same route to save The George and Dragon, at Hudswell, in North Yorkshire, 10 years ago.

The Vane’s share price is yet to be decided, pending wider consultation with the community, and an information evening is planned for 8.15pm on March 12 at the Wilson Institute in the village.

The campaigners have already been able to raise a glass to some positive news, with Stockton Borough Council listing the pub as an “Asset of Community Value”.

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham has backed that up by issuing the following statement:

“The closure of the Vane Arms, in Long Newton, in August 2019 resulted in the loss of a vital community asset, and I am completely behind this locally-led campaign to bring the Vane back into use as Cleveland’s first community pub.

“I’m delighted to see that the group has successfully achieved Asset Community Value status, which is the first step in the campaign to stop the pub falling victim to developers and retaining the Vane Arms as a community hub – providing local services, and playing a role in tackling social isolation.

“I wish the group success and will support them in their campaign in any way I can.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has also sent a message of support, and the villagers are being backed by the Plunkett Foundation, specialists in helping communities take control of their local pubs.

In Andy Mullin, the steering group has a member with 35 years of experience in the licensing trade, including roles with Bass, Century Inns, as well as being a former landlord of The Davenport at nearby Middleton One Row.

The other steering group members are Guy Jones, Mike Fawcett, and Mark Dyson, supported by Nigel’s wife Davina, Guy’s wife Jennifer, and Judith Sweeting, who lives next door to the pub.

The intention is to employ a licensee and there will be other employment opportunities, but the plan also includes harnessing the skills and goodwill of locals to help with the various tasks needed to maintain the pub.

For example, a gardening club used to meet regularly at the pub, and it is hoped green-fingered volunteers will come forward to manage the small allotment out the back and grow fresh produce that can included in pub meals.

Stockton Wheelers cycling club, which used The Vane Arms as a regular watering hole, has also pledged its support, and quiz nights, summer fetes, treasure hunts, plus live music are also on the agenda.

“We don’t want this to be a flash in the pan – we want longevity and sustainability for the good of the whole community,” says Nigel.

One person who has already pledged to be a “proud shareholder” is 85-year-old Mary Bellerby. She’s lived in Long Newton all her life and, ironically, was born in the village’s other pub, The Derry, in the days when it was The Londonderry Arms and run by her parents.

 “The Vane Arms has always been such an important part of the village and it has to be saved,” says Mary, defiantly.

It’s clearly a long way from being last orders at The Vane Arms…

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