As pubs with outdoor areas prepare to reopen on Monday, residents in one North-East village are so keen to see their local back in action, they’re prepared to stump up the cash to buy it. PETER BARRON reports

 

OH, how we've missed it – not being able to pop down to the pub for a drink and a chat with friends.

But, in the close-knit village of Long Newton, the re-opening of the local pub has extra-special significance.

That’s because the villagers are banding together in a bid to buy The Vane Arms, making it the first community-owned pub on Teesside.

And, in little more than two weeks, they’ve already pledged nearly a quarter of a million pounds to the cause.

“The response has been incredible,” says retired firefighter, Nigel Dennison, one of the founder members of the steering group behind the ambitious plan. “The financial commitments people have been prepared to make has exceeded all our expectations.”

Just over a year has passed since this column revealed that a campaign had been launched to “Save The Vane” from being turned into housing.

The Vane Arms has been part of the village - just off the A66 between Darlington and Stockton – since the 18th century, but it has been boarded up since August 2019.

A public meeting, weeks before the first national lockdown, attracted 120 residents, and a not-for-profit limited company – The Long Newton Community Hub Ltd – was established as a result.

Further good news followed when the company was accepted as a member of the Plunkett Foundation, specialists in helping communities take control of local pubs. Then, Stockton Borough Council categorised the pub as an “asset of community value”.

Now, the campaigners have cleared the biggest hurdle so far when the council’s planning committee rejected the housing development plan put forward by the pub’s owner, Andrew Abbott, by 12 votes to 1. That was despite planning officers recommending it for approval.

As a result, the campaigners have been informed there may now be a deal on the table, subject to valuation and a survey. The group has a commercial valuation expert ready to go, and is hoping the owner will allow this to happen soon.

Community shares are being offered at £1 each, with a minimum investment required of £500, and pledges so far total £231,000. The target is to reach £250,000 by June, so an application can be made for match-funding through the Government’s community ownership fund.

“We are very confident we’ll get to the £250,000 mark and be in a position to make a really strong case,” says Nigel.

“Even people who’ve moved into the village since we started the campaign have made pledges because they’ve been moved by the strength of community spirit, and can see how important having the pub will be in bringing everyone together post-Covid.”

The intention is for The Vane to not only be a viable pub but a community hub, with a shop, and an allotment with disabled access behind the beer garden that has stunning views out the back.

“We see it as being a place where all generations can come, and it will play such an important role in boosting people’s mental health,” adds Helen Jones, another steering group member.

What’s happening in Long Newton is also being watched closely in other parts of the Tees Valley because it is seen as a potential blueprint for other pubs to become community owned.

“Lockdown has underlined how much people have missed local pubs, and it’s added to loneliness for some people, so what’s happening at Long Newton is really interesting,” says Steve Matthews, chairman of the parish council at Carlton – home to The Smith’s Arms.

“Villages around the country have died because they’ve lost the focal point of their local pub, so coming up with a formula to save them is really important.”

And Nigel Dennison says he’s more confident than ever that the dream of putting The Vane Arms into the ownership of the local community will become a reality.

“There’s a lot to be done but, with a bit of luck, we could be in there, celebrating the success of the campaign by Christmas,” he says.

It’s an ambition that’s well worth toasting. Cheers!

ON Sunday, Darlington Harriers &Athletics club will stage a special memorial event in memory of the remarkable and much-missed Kieran Maxwell.

Kieran, of Heighington, near Darlington, died aged 18, four years ago after suffering from Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

A member of Darlington Harriers, Kieran had a leg amputated below the knee in 2011, but continued competing. He carried the Olympic torch through Bishop Auckland in 2012 and was being considered for the Great Britain Paralympic triathlon team.

Kieran’s mum, Nicola, told me how much the ongoing support from Darlington Harriers means to the family – and it goes much further than the annual athletics meeting in his memory.

On Mother’s Day, Kieran’s birthday, and at Christmas, she always gets a call from a club representative to check that she’s OK.

How lovely is that? If there were medals handed out for care and compassion, Darlington Harriers would surely be on the podium.

The Northern Echo:

IT was the annual general meeting of Darlington Operatic Society last week and I was honoured to be re-elected as president for another four years.

The Society enriches Darlington with the quality of its shows and, even during lockdown, it has produced stunning virtual performances.

I can’t sing, can’t dance, and can’t act, but I remain a proud president, and look forward to the time when members can again grace the stage with a 'Come Back Home' concert at Darlington Hippodrome in June.

FINALLY, the latest edition of the All Saints Hurworth Newsletter has been delivered around my home village, and I’m praying I’ll be forgiven for shamelessly stealing from its pages.

I couldn’t resist a section about 'church notices that didn’t come out right'. Here are a few examples:

  • “This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs Brown, our church warden, to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.”
  • “Ladies are requested not to have children in the church kitchen.”
  • “The organist invites anyone who enjoys sinning to volunteer for the choir.”
  • “At the church meeting last week, the rector spoke briefly and delighted the audience.”
  • And, as a final thought: “Don’t let worry kill you. Let the church help.”

Amen...